ACLU-IN and Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign Sue Bloomington, IN Bus Company

May 8, 2009

Photo by Sarah Kaiser.

Bloomington, IN bus company says this ad is too controversial.

  ACLU of Indiana  and the   Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign (INABC) have filed a lawsuit against the   Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation for refusing to allow a bus sign that says, "You Can Be Good Without God."  INABC was formed by some concerned citizens and   Indiana University students   (Secular Alliance of IU) .  The group plans to run bus ads in other Indiana cities but the first was to be Bloomington where the main campus of Indiana University is located.  Meanwhile, they are moving forward with efforts in other cities. 

The bus company has a policy under which it can refuse any advertisement that it considers to be controversial.  The   ACLU complaint considers this policy "unconstitutionally vague in violation of due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and is violative of INABC’s rights under the First Amendment."

While it seems that they have not allowed any overtly religious signs to be displayed, there are ads for the YMCA and labor unions as well as for traditional commercial businesses, not-for-profits such as a provider of services for individuals with developmental disabilities, and for events connected with Indiana University.   

Charlie Sitzes, a major backer of the INABC, says of the ad, "It isn’t an attack on religion but an affirmation of a different point of view.  The only way a person could remotely construe the message as harmful and too controversial even to be seen is if it conflicts with a pre-conceived and false belief that atheism is wicked and immoral.  It’s too bad that such prejudice is still so prevalent in America." 

In my opinion, this is a great message to put out there.   Too many people think that you have to be religious to be a moral person.   They don’t know they have a choice. They think that it is a given that there is a god, that everyone believes there is a god, and if you don’t believe in god you are a bad person.  We   secular humanists know that is not true.   When I give talks to groups and when I talk with people who come into our center, I give them a copy of   Affirmations of Humanism . The Common Moral Decencies cut across all cultures and religions.  Take away the theology and "god stuff" and that is what you have—those values that have been proven throughout the history of mankind to allow people to live in harmony, to respect each other, and to achieve their fullest potential has human beings. 

When I am driving to and from   CFI Indiana  nearly every day from my home in Greenwood (about 10 mile), I pass numerous churches, some with signs that tell me that I will be "left behind" or "go to hell" if I do not believe the way they do and a large billboard that says "Avoid Hell, Repent Today."   So is it not controversial to post these religious signs but controversial to post "You Can Be Good Without God"?

  Watch video about the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign.  



#1 bigjohn756 (Guest) on Friday May 08, 2009 at 12:56pm

But, Reba, the Christians have God and the Bible behind them and all we have is fact and common sense. Of course it is controversial to use thought processes to reach conclusions and make statements based on those conclusions. What is the matter with you? Do you think that Christians live in the real world?

#2 bank lover (Guest) on Friday May 08, 2009 at 11:22pm

The Atheist Bus Campaign began when comedy writer Ariane Sherine wrote a Comment is Free article in June 2008 about the Christian adverts running on London buses. These ads featured the URL of a website which said non-Christians would burn in hell for all eternity. Ariane suggested that atheists reading her article could each donate £5 to fund a reassuring counter-advert….

#3 bank mirjula (Guest) on Friday May 08, 2009 at 11:23pm

The campaign received a boost when the British Humanist Association joined the campaign and Richard Dawkins generously agreed to match all donations up to a maximum of £5,500. The BHA set up a Just Giving page where members of the public could donate….
finance deals

#4 Socrates, Jr. (Guest) on Saturday May 09, 2009 at 10:33am

“But, Reba, the Christians have God and the Bible behind them and all we have is fact and common sense.”

I have always wondered: what exactly is “common sense” and why does it seem so uncommon?  Why don’t all people naturally agree?  Are the dissenters ignorant?  If so, then it would seem that “common sense” was not really so common.  Are the dissenters evil?  That may be true, but how does one determine who knows what “common sense” entails and follows it and who knows what “common sense” entails but rejects it out of malice?

#5 palintropos on Saturday May 09, 2009 at 4:18pm

I wish the ACLU the best in its arguments about the first and fourth amendments. I will be interested to see the outcome and truly hope it is favorable. But this post really misses a lot of points.

I almost hate to see things like this on CFI because it reminds me of the same things I read in defense of things like the Christian license plates in South Carolina.

Compare this passage:

In my opinion, this is a great message to put out there.  Too many people think that you have to be religious to be a moral person.  They don’t know they have a choice. They think that it is a given that there is a god, that everyone believes there is a god, and if you don’t believe in god you are a bad person.  We secular humanists know that is not true.

to this fictional Christian defense of something secular humanists would find abhorrent (like the SC example I mentioned):

In my opinion, this is a great message to put out there.  Too many people think that you can just be a moral person without accepting Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior.  They don’t know they have a choice. They think that it is a given that God will simply forgive them, and that they can save themselves through good works.  We Christians know that is not true.

All I’ve done is substituted relatively straightforward secular beliefs with common fundamentalist evangelical points, and you can see that I have not distorted the structure at all. The former, to me, is chillingly reminiscent of the latter.

It’s also a bit silly to compare the advertisements on a bus to billboards. Clearly there’s a family resemblance, but as pertains to the substance of the issue there is no relation at all. We should stick to logic, the rule of law, and facts in presenting our case, or we risk simply imposing our beliefs on others and appeals to persecution to justify our points. Just because we’re preaching to the choir here, never forget that anyone can read this. What would a devout Christian think upon reading this post?

#6 palintropos on Saturday May 09, 2009 at 4:44pm


I wish the ACLU the best in its arguments about the first and <s>fourth</s> fourteenth amendments.

Clearly this case has nothing to do with privacy or unreasonable search and seizure. I was in a hurry and didn’t proofread my earlier post. I hope the rest of my points were clear.

#7 Reba Boyd Wooden on Saturday May 09, 2009 at 7:36pm

The bus signs are on public transportation (not a private company) so that makes it a constitutional issue.  Of course, billboards are private and churches certainly have the right to put anything on their messages boards that they want.  My point is that when a message is posted that questions religion it is considered offensive or at least controversial whereas religious messages usually are not.

#8 palintropos on Saturday May 09, 2009 at 11:33pm

Right. I certainly understand your point, and I agree that atheists certainly suffer in the public mind from what optimistically could be called misunderstanding and cynically could be called outright bigotry. I normally tend to think of it as the latter. I was more or less arguing that it’s important to clarify when we’re talking about the substance of the issue (i.e., this is a constitutional issue based on the first & fourteenth amendments) and the perception of the issue, which is usually personal (e.g., one suspects that hypothetically a similar message of religious persuasion would not have the same effect).

The reason I suggest this precision is very simply because it’s a matter of perception. Too often I’ve gone around reading commentary about analogous issues affecting religionists only to see multiple sad examples of non-sequitur reasoning, overly stretched analogies, and insanely paranoid persecution complexes. We must be careful to avoid appearing to share any of these things with our dogmatic counterparts, as that’s always a bar we’ll have to meet and a standard we’ll have to be held to. Even if it’s just a general human tendency (which it most likely is), when writing on behalf of secularists, it’s ever-so-important to stick to logic and clarity. We have enough of an image problem without appearing to descend to the level of our usual interlocutors.

Just my personal opinion, since your post kind of struck me wrong on first reading. Thanks for the response.

#9 Commenter123 (Guest) on Sunday May 10, 2009 at 7:45am

To play devil’s advocate here, I’m not sure that this is as clear a free speech issue as it seems. Yes, they’re public buses, but people don’t have a guaranteed right to speak via channels specifically sponsored by the government, even if they pay with their own money. Why not? Because it gives the impression that the government approves of the message. Think back to the Ten Commandments displays in courthouses - non-theists had a problem with that because it gave the impression that the government was favoring one religion over another.

Reba already stated that the buses have never had overtly religious advertisements on them before. Perhaps the bus company’s policy encompasses things like religious messages, or messages which mention religion at all. And while it seems that the bus company should have a clearer policy about what’s allowed, but perhaps they feel they are being fair by equally rejecting religious and non-religious messages.

And, yes, the YMCA is a religious organization, but if the ad they put up is for basketball camps, or swimming lessons, then it’s essentially a secular message, just as it would be if a non-theistic organization sponsored an ad for an upcoming lecture or event. (As long as the title of the event wasn’t something like the Hitchens book, “God is Not Great,” since that obviously has religious content.)

#10 Reba Boyd Wooden on Sunday May 10, 2009 at 4:42pm

Let’s see how this plays out in court.  The big issue probably is the vagueness of the policy.  Like—who decides what is controversial and what is not???

#11 Reba Boyd Wooden on Monday May 11, 2009 at 4:29am

Update on Bus Campaign. The first ads go up in SouthBend, IN.  See link for story.

#12 Misty (Guest) on Monday May 11, 2009 at 6:27am

I am extremely sickened by the ridiculous nature of the ACLU. Are you seriously going to waste tax payer money on something so stupid? The bus company should have the right to refuse this kind of propaganda just as they have the right to deny an advertisement says ( just an example)“Atheists are barnicles on the ship of life.” I for one am so fed up with this kind of childish temper tantrums that effect citizens at large. Not because you don’t want to believe in God, that is your right, but because you act as if someone is trying to keep YOU from your beliefs when in all actuality, you are trying to keep others from believing in theirs. A bus company is a private entity able to express their own belief on what is controversial and what is not. Just as all department stores have the right to exclude Merry Christmas from their advertising. Where is the ACLU for Christians who are sick of being told that they aren’t allowed to express their belief if they hold public office, own a business, teach or the like? Where are they then? I truly hope that one day, someone with some sense turns this once admirable and important organization back into what it was intended to be, an entity to make sure that NO American was told they could not express themselves, completely and without cruel backlash. It seems the hero has become the villian in which he has sworn to defeat.

#13 Commenter123 (Guest) on Monday May 11, 2009 at 6:47am

@Misty -

I think you may have missed the fact that, according to my understanding, the bus company is a public company, supported by governmental funding, not a private entity. That means there may well be different rules and responsibilities in regards to accepting ads.

Also, I would be interested if you could provide links to back up your claims that there are widespread examples of atheists telling Christians that they can’t follow their chosen faith, or Christians being told not to express their views. From what I can see, there is a National Day of Prayer; church-goers are automatically assumed by many to be highly moral, whereas atheists are seen as dangerously suspect; churches are given tax-exmept status; church leaders are among the most powerful political forces in the country; oh, and try getting elected to a major public office as an “out” atheist, because it just isn’t going to happen.

I’m skeptical of this bus advertisement thing too, but in terms of the larger culture, I’m pretty sure that you’ve got the telescope turned around backwards.

#14 Reba Boyd Wooden on Monday May 11, 2009 at 7:26am

Misty:  I would suggest that you check out the following website:

#15 Kyle (Guest) on Monday May 11, 2009 at 7:57am

@ Reba Boyd Wooden,

Thank you for posting that site. I can’t tell you how many times I have come up against arguments like that of Misty’s and was unable to present counter evidence.

#16 Misty (Guest) on Monday May 11, 2009 at 8:02am

Dear commenter123, you do have me on the point of definition of ‘Private’. I should have used impartial as I meant the reference to mean seperate party from the issue. Not involved either way. But since you bring up the issue as to who owns the bus line, I am sure there are just as many christians who pay taxes as there are atheists.

As for the issue of keeping christians from expressing themselves, I will make it my top priority to spend my free time seeking out the proverse and useless law suits filed by the ACLU that inhibit christians to fully express themselves while leaving out the democracy of our nation. But as an ill investigated example, I give you schools.

Teachers are forbidden to express their christian beliefs to children but are, however, allowed to teach foriegn religions as a view of culture, they are allowed to teach mythology, which is a form of ancient religion, but any mention of Jesus, God or christianity is forbidden, despite what the majority of parents would like to be taught to their kids.

It’s funny, that parents have the right to sign a paper saying that they do not wish for their children to have sex education classes, and we are to be alright with the exclusion and with the teaching in general, but atheist parent’s cannot be alright signing a paper saying that they would like their child excluded from any religious based activities or teachings and be alright with the rest of the kids having that taught.

In fact, I have never been asked at all if I object to my children learning about mythology, islam or any other religion that I do not practice. However, they are being taught about it. Was I ever asked if I wanted my child to be taught Spanish or French? Nope. Was I ever asked if I wanted my child to sit in the classroom with children of the oposite sex? Nope. Was I ever asked if I wanted my child to be forced to participate in physical education? Nope. And why?

I find it hard to believe that the ACLU or this site promotes free thinking without promoting free speech, choice and belief for everyone. By leaving out christians, which seems to be the only group of religions you have a problem with, then you are in fact NOT promoting free thinking, you are doing just as you are accusing the christians of doing by sheilding people from the christian view of life.

And if you truly believe that christians don’t support people who either don’t or don’t want to believe in God, then you are sadly mistaken, after all, majority rules, and by last count, christians were still the majority, and most of us do realize that good people are everywhere, just as bad people are too. And most of realize that people should be able to love who they wish to love and that the states should recognize that even if God doesn’t.

And most of realize that it is important to allow people to not believe in our God and to not be kept from believing. And, believe it or not, most of us believe that it doesn’t really matter to the world what your religion or lack there of is, what matters is that we are all human beings and we deserve to be cared for as such.(Even christians)

I fear what you fail to see is the importance of believing for some people. For some, without their belief, they wouldn’t be as humanitarian as they are. Believing brings the best out in them. As I am sure your belief that you are doing what is needed makes you the best you can be.

I may not have all the statistics, or all the charts and news broadcasts to share, but I do recall a study done on how there was a direct effect between the level of crime now and the level of crime when religion was taught in schools and there seemed to be less violence then than there is now. Sometimes, people need the structure of religion in order to keep them from running amuck. And sometimes, people need the absence of religion in order to keep the sanity. My point is, the ACLU, and all true free thinkers, should see the importance of both to society and not try to stop or purposely offend anyone.

As for the statement on the buses, I find it more offensive to believe that there are people who actually believe that most God followers are narrow minded and dense, than to think there are actually people who don’t believe in God.

Because, not to be rude, but if you aren’t in heaven when I get there, no big loss to me, it will be you that misses out. But, if I am wrong and there is no God, I’ll still decompose right along with you and I won’t even care because I won’t have a soul to notice. Either way, I am so blessed.

So, I will continue to teach my children that they can believe in God and still embrace their fellow man as human beings. I will teach them that with adversity comes great unity. Not only between friends but also between foes. As we are all looking for ways that make life bearable and rewarding for ourselves. I just wish that all this energy, being spent playing tug of war with one another because we’re too stubborn to admit that we each have a place and role to play, could someday be spent on issues for children, such as child pornography, child abuse, child abduction, child molestation, child mental health, and etc. I think we can agree that if our children aren’t taken care of, we will have no minds to try and sway.

#17 Reba Boyd Wooden on Tuesday May 12, 2009 at 4:41am

This is for the people who think that ACLU will not defend anyone:

Kelly Coffman-Lee’s rejected vanity plate idea.Coming on the heels of the much-publicized rejection of an ILUVTOFU Colorado license plate (the plate was rejected for possible sexual overtones), State Senator Greg Brophy joked that he wanted a vanity license plate that reads ACLUSUX. Brophy made the remark after the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) requested records from the Colorado Department of Revenue of those people whose vanity plate requests had been rejected because they were deemed as being too offensive.

Lynn Bartels, political blogger for the Denver Post, reports that the ACLU responded to Brophy’s comment with a letter from ACLU of Colorado Executive Director Cathryn Hazouri:

If you apply for that license and are refused, please contact the ACLU because we stand ready to represent you if you want to pursue your right to have that license plate. . . After all, censorship is censorship and the ACLU doesn’t draw any distinction between speech with which we agree and speech we may not like. That would be content discrimination and would violate one of our major principles of protecting free speech.”

#18 Reba Boyd Wooden on Tuesday May 12, 2009 at 7:45pm

South Bend Ads Delayed (from campaign website)
According to our signed contract with Burkhart (the advertising agency that handles bus ads for the South Bend bus company, Transpo), Monday, May 11 was supposed to be the starting date for our month-long bus ad campaign. Based on this, we and the American Humanist Association issued a press release announcing the beginning of the campaign.

Unfortunately, this announcement turns out to have been premature. Transpo didn’t manage get the ads mounted in time to meet the target date, but presumably they will be able to do so within the five day leeway permitted in our contract for putting up the ads. We are thus optimistic that buses displaying ads with the slogan “You can be good without God” will be on the streets of South Bend by the end of the week. We apologize for any inconvenience that this confusion may have caused.

#19 Commenter123 (Guest) on Wednesday May 13, 2009 at 7:20am


You made a lot of points, and it doesn’t really make sense to address all of them, since a lot of them come down to the same issue.

The mistake you (and others who use these arguments) make is that ALL beliefs need be treated equally, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Shinto, tribal religions, or atheism. That becomes important when you say:

“Teachers are forbidden to express their christian beliefs to children but are, however, allowed to teach foriegn religions as a view of culture, they are allowed to teach mythology, which is a form of ancient religion, but any mention of Jesus, God or christianity is forbidden, despite what the majority of parents would like to be taught to their kids.”

What you’re leaving out here is that teachers are forbidden from teaching ANY religion as fact, but that they can teach ANY religion as culture or history. Don’t believe me? Look up the number of Bible study courses that are allowed in schools because they teach the Bible as a historical and cultural work, rather than as the word of God. That’s perfectly acceptable.

If it upsets you that Christianity can be taught in school only in a cultural or historical context - rather than as truth - try to think about it a different way. Would you be upset if your child came home and talked about how in class today she learned that Allah is the one true God, and that Jesus is just a prophet, not the son of God? Of course you would, because it is a public school official teaching a religious belief, other than your own, as fact! Everyone objects to that, and that’s why we don’t allow it in schools - we don’t allow ANY beliefs to be taught as fact, not just Christian ones. Christianity is not given special treatment in this regard, nor is it singled out for special scrutiny. It simply is not the case, and this will become apparent when you look into it.

Also, to be sure, non-theists appreciate religious freedom, and understand that religious pluralism is good for everyone. But what that means is NOT that there should be a “majority rules” scenario in terms of who gets to decide what religions get taught in schools, or what religious messages are allowed on buses. What we need (and what we already have, in the ways the First Amendment has been interpreted) is a rule which says that all religions must be treated equally, and that the government cannot give benefits to one religion (or a lack of religion) over another belief system. That’s what keeps everything fair, and protects people in the minority, whether they’re Hindus, or animists, or Zoroastrianists, or whatever. Nobody is allowed to have a problem with what other people teach in their houses of worship as religious truth, AS LONG AS those “truths” don’t get the imprimatur of the government.

So, I agree - we should all go ahead with believing whatever we want to believe. And personal expressions of religion (praying, wearing of holy symbols, talking among friends, attending services, etc.) will, and should, always be allowed. What should not be allowed is for one religious belief or expression to be given higher status than another.

#20 Reba Boyd Wooden on Wednesday May 13, 2009 at 3:12pm

Problem with South Bend Ads also.  See the above link.

#21 Reba Boyd Wooden on Friday May 15, 2009 at 11:36am legal department won’t defend bus system in atheist ad lawsuit

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May 15, 2009
Print-friendly In the wake of a lawsuit by an atheist group that was denied permission to post ads on Bloomington Transit buses saying “You can be good without God,” city government is seeking to distance itself from the fray.

In the federal suit filed this month against the Bloomington Public Transportation Corp., the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign alleged the bus system’s policy to reject ads with “statements of position in support of or in opposition to controversial public issues” is too vague and is unconstitutional.

Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan said he disagrees with the BT policy and he’s asked city government’s legal department not to represent BT in court.

“I felt strongly that the city shouldn’t be defending on this issue,” he said Thursday.

Bloomington Public Transportation Corp. operates as a separate municipal corporation, which contracts with the city of Bloomington legal department to provide legal services.

Kruzan said having city legal defend BT in court would amount to “promoting government sanctioned censorship” because the bus service gets city legal’s services at an hourly rate less than that of a private law firm, which is in essence a partial taxpayer subsidy.

The Bloomington Public Transportation Corp. board met Tuesday. According to board chairman Ray McConn, it talked about the lawsuit in executive session, so he could not give any details on the discussion.

McConn said the board would be hiring an outside firm (as yet to be selected), should the case go to trial. “It’s appropriate for the board to defend our policies as we see fit,” he said. He added it also would be inappropriate to ask city legal to defend BT because federal cases are not an area of expertise.

The Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign has approached the bus system in South Bend about posting the same ad. According to the group’s Web site, the ads’ posting is pending the results of a board meeting Monday.

#22 Reba Boyd Wooden on Thursday May 21, 2009 at 7:43am

TRANSPO board in South Bend has accepted our ads
We have a quick update for everyone: After a bit of hoopla in South Bend over the past week, we are happy to announce that TRANSPO, South Bend’s bus system, has accepted our ads saying “You can be good without god.” The Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign is delighted with the decision by TRANSPO, which celebrates America’s rich diversity of peoples and cultures and religions and extols America’s unique and long-standing dedication to freedom of expression as embodied the the First Amendment of our Constitution.

Our ads were supposed to go up last Monday, in time for President Barack Obama’s speech at Notre Dame, but the ads were delayed when TRANSPO decided to review the matter. The Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign had a contract with Burkhart stating the ads would be placed last Monday, May 11, or within a 5 day leeway period. As of today, because the ads are not yet up, that contract has been violated by Burkhart. You can read more about this in the latest South Bend Tribune article on the campaign. (Also, see more of our coverage on the Media page.)

The bus campaign is happy that a decision in favor of our ads has been made; however, there are details that must be worked out in relation to Burkhart’s breach of contract. We expect the message “You can be good without god” to be up and visible in South Bend shortly.

Go to for a video and more information.

#23 youreap whatyousow (Guest) on Wednesday June 03, 2009 at 6:40pm

How moronic can the left get?  Common sense…no, you have no common sense, because you are only doing this out of hatred and spite.  One thing you don’t understand is you can’t see me, but you can see what I have written…so common sense says I exist.  I don’t see you, but I see the effects of your stupidity, so I know common sense says you exist.  Knowing this common sense tells me that I may not see God, but when I see his affect on the other people’s or my own life, then I know he exist.  What you are doing is denying that because you are blind to the truth.  One day you will realize the truth and it will be too late.  Right now you are just tools of Satan, trying to remove all hope from everyone.  In the end, you will be the ones who truly end up with no hope at all, maybe you can just mark it down as a lack of common sense.

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