Atheists Aren’t Allowed To Buy Billboard Space In Mansfield, Ohio

Mid-Ohio Atheists has the full story.

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13 Responses to Atheists Aren’t Allowed To Buy Billboard Space In Mansfield, Ohio

  1. 1
    KellyK says:

    As much as I despise the, “Hey, dummy, your beliefs are crap” billboards that atheist groups put out, particularly around the holiday season, they should have every right to put them out. And that billboard is actually one of the less obnoxious I’ve seen. Putting the two side-by-side makes it clear that the town is being blatantly discriminatory.

    And you know, if your faith can be broken by a billboard, you had bigger problems.

  2. 2
    brossa says:

    I wonder what ‘bigger problems’ a person has if a billboard causes them to lose their faith.

  3. 3
    Sebastian says:

    Sure, it’s discrimination, but aren’t private companies in their right to refuse to work for someone they don’t like? I certainly would not repair the lathe of someone who is churning out Nazi paraphernalia. So, given that in the eyes of some believers, we atheists are as trustworthy as rapists, it’s not that surprising that the billboard company would refuse to fill the order.

    I am not saying that this is not proof of blatant discrimination, but it is not the town government doing it, it’s a private business. Tell me, Ampersand, how much cash would it take for you to produce a cartoon worth of the title “The Ten Most Stupid Arguments against the 9-9-9 plan”? (I chose this example, because I think that the 9-9-9 plan is the dumbest shit floating around the Republican candidates, and that’s saying something)

    All in all, I think that this is not news… as opposed to what quite a few southern state governments are doing with license plates, namely allowing pro-life and religious messages, but denying pro-choice and atheist ones.

  4. 4
    hf, Supreme High Lamb-y Dragon-y Person of Christians for the Antichrist says:

    @KellyK et al: I feel compelled to point something out about billboards. While I try to see Christmas as a fun cultural phenomenon like Santa Day in Japan, rather than a way for Christians to celebrate their dominance and exclude me from the class of “real Americans,” I keep seeing signs that insist on the narrow sectarian meaning. (As I think other atheists have told Christians online, y’all can have exclusive ownership of the holiday or you can shove it down everyone’s throats. Pick one.)

    So even a billboard like “In your heart, you know it’s a myth,” gives me a nice release of tension. The sectarian symbols on the sign set up an uncomfortable expectation — ‘Oh joy, another message addressed to everyone but me’ — and the text subverts that in a joyful way. (Possibly this explains God-as-Coca-Cola shirts, though I don’t know why the Christians who buy them would feel shut out to begin with.) And you should realize immediately, based on what everyone should know about human nature in general, that the billboard exists for the sake of people who already agree. It tells me I’m not alone.

    The design in the OP seems even more obviously addressed to atheists. It serves primarily as a recruiting tool for or — I assure you that nobody expects people to walk in saying, ‘I thought there was a God, but your sign showed me the light!’ They expect non-theists to say, ‘I had no idea there was an atheist group right next door.’

    And while I don’t like to see signs saying God is the bees’ knees, I can’t reasonably criticize the writers for stating what they believe. Not if everyone gets to do so without condemnation.

  5. 5
    Ampersand says:

    Sebastian, in general, I agree with you; private companies do have the right to discriminate. That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong for the people who are discriminated against to publicly object; just because a company has the legal right to be jerks doesn’t mean that they’re morally right to be jerks, nor does it mean they have a right to not be criticized.

    It becomes more complicated in a case like this, where what’s involved is access to public speech. The government almost certainly has legal barriers up involving who can put up a billboard where (and probably for good reason), and in many areas just one or two billboard companies have a monopoly on all the good billboard spaces.

    Suppose both of the billboard companies in town are owned by Democrats, and they refuse to sell billboard space to Republican candidates. At that point, the free speech right of private companies to choose what speech to be carriers for is in conflict with the right of the public to a fair and full discourse. You can’t have a marketplace of ideas if the market is closed to half the ideas.

    I don’t like the idea of the Nazis (to use your example) putting up billboards. But I also don’t like the idea of a handful of businesses having an unfettered right to decide for an entire area what ideas are and aren’t legitimate parts of public discourse.

    Of course, you can say that billboards aren’t important enough to be concerned with. But we see the same basic problem with access to buying ads on network TV, for example.

  6. 6
    Ampersand says:

    Hey, HF — I moved your comments to an open thread, because they seemed incredibly off-topic on this thread.

  7. 7
    KellyK says:

    brossa, if a sign is going to destroy your beliefs, they were on pretty shaky ground to begin with. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    hf, thanks for the explanation of how you view those billboards.

  8. 8
    Elusis says:

    private companies do have the right to discriminate.

    Not in “public accommodations.” What was the point of the Civil Rights Act otherwise?

  9. 9
    Sebastian says:

    Elusis, you got me digging.

    By US Code T42, C126.III, § 12181 billboards are not explicitly listed as a public accommodation. But one can argue that they are covered in 7C (place of exhibition) or 7H (place of public display).

    Now, I am an engineer, not a lawyer. Could one of the lawyers around here offer an opinion on whether the billboard company can be sued for discriminating on the basis of religion as a private provider of public accommodation? Of course, one must keep in mind that the original billboards were put by Lamar, while the company that refused the atheists’ design was Lind.

  10. 10
    RonF says:

    If all the billboards in town were owned by Democrats and they refused to sell space to Republican candidates I’d say “Too bad for you, Republicans, go buy/build your own billboard or get your message out some other way.”

    BTW – in the context of that proposition, how accurate is the title? Are atheists not able to buy billboard space in Mansfield, OH? Or are they just not able to buy that billboard?

  11. 11
    Ampersand says:

    Ron, they’re not able to buy any billboard space from that one company, which presumably owns multiple billboards. I’m not sure if the other company in town has also turned them down, or not.

    Regarding the more theoretical issue, is there any case you can imagine in which you’d say that private property rights should be secondary to providing the public with access to a healthier, more diverse marketplace of ideas?

  12. 12
    Robert says:

    Amp – you should remove the beam in your own eye first. The billboard market from what I understand is tiny in comparison with what it used to be, because well-meaning progressives in decades past have passed laws and zoning codes that restrict signage.

    If we had a free market in signage, there would be competition from new entrants and companies trying to impose their own moral values on advertisers would simply be routed around. As things are, with signage so restricted and the best spots already in the hands of existing firms, companies do not feel obliged to please anyone but themselves.

  13. Thanks for taking the time to post about our Billboard issue.