B.C. bus drivers boycott atheist ad campaign
Published Saturday, April 23, 2011 12:21PM PDT
A handful of BC Transit employees are refusing to drive buses that sport ads questioning the existence of God.
The ads come courtesy of the Centre for Inquiry Canada, a skeptic organization that has sponsored similar advertisements across the country since 2009. They read, "There's probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."
The campaign debuted in B.C. last week on buses in Kamloops and Kelowna – prompting a boycott from a small number of drivers in both communities on religious grounds.
CFI executive director Justin Trottier admits that questioning faith is a hot-button issue, but insists atheists and agnostics have a place in public discourse.
"Canadians are extremely multicultural. There's room for various cultural minorities to express their opinion, and we want skeptics and non-believers to have a part in that dialogue."
Trottier added that the campaign has been largely accepted by religious communities. "You do get the occasional extremist who considers the ads bigoted or anti-Christian, though none of our ads specifically target Christianity," he said.
"There does seem to be broad support for engaging in the conversation."
That was the reaction of Pastor Mike Penninga, who responded to the campaign on the Kelowna Gospel Fellowship website.
"I think this is a good thing," Penninga wrote. "People will be talking about God, and any conversation about God is better than no conversation about God."
"This should push us to ask ourselves, why do we believe in God?"
Transit companies in several municipalities across Canada have refused to run the ads, Trottier said, citing policies against provocative or ideological messages.
But the CFI's ads have been approved by the Canadian Standards Association, and many transit providers have since relented – including in Vancouver and Victoria, where the campaign may be heading in the near-future.
Trottier said he took exception to statements by BC Transit spokeswoman Joanna Lingsangan that if ads in the Okanagan are vandalized or result in harassment against bus drivers, they will be removed.
"She's basically gone and told any fanatic what they can do to bully the government into taking our ads down," he said.
"I thought it was shameful. The government should protect our Charter rights and not side with a nut who vandalizes our ads, which, by the way, we pay for like any other advertisers."
So far, no vandalism or violence against transit employees has been reported.
On May 7, the CFI is holding a conference in Kamloops titled Imagine No Religion, which will feature an appearance by Nate Phelps.
Phelps is the estranged son of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps, whose group gained notoriety picketing military funerals and chanting homophobic slurs.