‘Why Believe in a God?' Metro Ads Draw Scorn

American Humanist Association ads criticized

More than 200 people have complained to Metro about an ad campaign that questions believing in God, The Washington Examiner reported. One person praised the campaign.

The ads by the American Humanist Association first appeared on buses two weeks ago and inside buses on Monday. They say, "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake."

Metro spokeswoman Candace Smith said the ads have sparked more complaints than usual.

"As a public agency, Metro must observe the First Amendment with respect to the acceptance of commercial advertising," Smith said. "Although we understand that feelings and perceptions will vary among individuals within the community, we cannot reject advertising because an individual, or group, finds it inappropriate or offensive."

The transit agency's ads can't be misleading or false, and they can't violate laws or incite violence, Smith said. Profanity also is forbidden.

Everything else must be accepted.

One person wrote to Metro, "That ad is obscene to me!? I wouldn't want my children reading that." Another person wrote of planning to complain to the ACLU that the ads violate the separation of church and state by a publicly funded organization.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it had not gotten complaints about the campaign.

"The principle is as old as the hills," said Fritz Mulhauser, staff attorney for the ACLU of the National Capital Area. "If Metro opens its space and walls to advertising, it cannot pick and choose."

It's not known how many of those who complained ride Metro -- all but five complaints arrived by e-mail. One signed an e-mail as a "D.C. resident, Metro rider, and 'BELIEVER' in God," while another wrote, "I have never had the privilege to actually visit Washington, D.C."

The humanist group began running 20 ads on the backs and sides of Metro buses Nov. 17 in Northwest and Southeast. Another 200 ads, posted behind the drivers' seats, began Monday.

Since starting the campaign, 638 new members have signed up with the Humanist Association, spokesman Fred Edwords said. Traffic to its Web site increased, Edwords said, and donors contributed thousands of dollars to the group. It spent less than $12,000 on the bus ads.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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