Religious ads banned from Fort Worth buses

FORT WORTH -- The end is near for religious advertisements on Fort Worth buses.

Two weeks after controversy erupted because the Fort Worth Transportation Authority accepted ads with the atheist message "Millions of Americans are Good Without God," the T board revised its policy Wednesday night to ban all religious ads effective Jan. 1.

"I don't like the ads. I think they create divisiveness," T board member Gary Havener said before the nine-member board unanimously approved the new policy.

But Havener also criticized the people who pressured T drivers not to operate buses adorned with the ads and urged riders to boycott the transit system.

"I don't like people coming in here and muscling our employees when we're trying to provide transportation," he said.

The new policy is effective immediately, but existing ads will remain on buses until their contracts expire. No religious ads are under contract beyond Dec. 31, T President Dick Ruddell said.

The "Good Without God" ads were bought for $2,480 by the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, whose members said they wanted to raise awareness of nonreligious social groups.

Some church leaders were furious that the ads were running just before Christmas. Last week, a religious group hired a billboard truck to drive behind T buses with messages that read: "I still love you -- God" and "2.1 Billion People are Good With God."

This week, a bus with the atheists' ad on a side panel also displayed a religious ad on a rear panel: "What if there really is a God?" That ad was bought by Alpha DFW, the local chapter of an interdenominational group that promotes Christian dialogue.

On Wednesday, several dozen people packed the T boardroom in east Fort Worth. Atheists and church leaders applauded the decision to end religious advertising.

"Our concern is the kind of publicity that we get," said Bishop B.E. George, who represents the group Ministers Against Crime, noting the national spotlight on the area because of the Feb. 6 Super Bowl. "There are people that would like to take the opportunity to give our city a bad image."

But others urged the T not to cave into pressure from churches.

"It's not the function of government at any level to take the word of religious leaders as the divine word," said Zachary Moore of Irving, executive director of the Fellowship of Freethought Dallas.

Moore ended his three-minute remarks by offering T board members "holiday cookies."

The T's new policy comes months after other agencies, including Dallas Area Rapid Transit, banned religious ads to avoid controversy.

The T also bans ads that are political, have defamatory or hate speech, or promote adult entertainment or alcoholic beverages other than beer and wine.

The T's new policy won't prohibit Texas Christian University, which is associated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), from buying ads for secular events such as Horned Frogs sports, T legal counsel Sylvia Hartless said. The policy targets the message, not necessarily the entity buying it.

But the policy could be interpreted to prohibit TCU ads promoting its religion program or Brite Divinity School, she said.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

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