AAA  Jul. 3, 2014 12:42 PM ET
Transit agency pays $20K to settle atheist ad suit
By JOE MANDAK, Associated Press
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
  •       AIM
  •       Share

Buy AP Photo Reprints

(AP) — A western Pennsylvania mass transit agency has agreed to pay $20,000 plus $40,000 in legal expenses to settle a lawsuit filed by a group that sought to put ads on buses encouraging people not to believe in God.

The Washington-based United Coalition of Reason sued in November after the Port Authority of Allegheny County refused to run the group's ads, citing a policy banning "noncommercial" ads that had been revamped to exclude only those with ideological messages.

Under the settlement, the transit agency still won't run the ads the group sought. But the group said Thursday it may apply to run ads it believes will comply with the more narrowly drawn ban.

"However, through the litigation process we believe we've made our point that the Port Authority will apply its new ad policy more consistently in the future," said Fred Edwords, the group's national director.

The Port Authority didn't admit wrongdoing in the settlement filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court.

"This was a strategic business decision to avoid further, greater costs and the uncertainty of litigation," Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said Thursday.

The lawsuit was filed after the transit agency refused to post ads that read, "Don't believe in God? You are not alone" and included a website address of a local group the coalition supports.

The transit agency lost a similar lawsuit after it refused a 2006 political ad by the Pittsburgh League of Young Voters. The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of the group and after losing in U.S. District Court and in the 3rd U.S. District Court of Appeals, the Port Authority eventually paid nearly $1,900 in damages plus more than $344,000 for the voting group's legal fees.

The United Coalition of Reason claimed its First Amendment right to free expression was similarly being violated. The lawsuit sought to force acceptance of the ads, and legal fees.

The coalition describes itself as dedicated to raising "the visibility of local nontheistic groups all over America" and says it has run similar ads on buses across the country since 2008.

The group's "Godless billboards" campaign has included slogans in other cities including, "A million New Yorkers are good without God." It successfully sued the Central Arkansas Transit Authority in 2011 for the right to post ads on buses that said, "Are you good without God? Millions are."

___

Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, http://pghtrib.com

  •       AIM
  •       Share