A group of Fort Worth African-American pastors is calling for a passenger boycott of city buses displaying advertising signs that they say are offensive to Christians.
The disputed signs read "Millions of Americans are Good Without God" and were paid for by the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, an atheist organization whose spokesperson said earlier this week that they were intended to let non-believers know they are not alone.
The pastors, who talked with media outside the Harvey Street Missionary Baptist Church Thursday morning, say the signs have no place on city buses. The buses are operated by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, known as "The T."
"The T, which is supported with public funds, plans to display a sign that is offensive to our community," said Kyev Tatum, pastor of Friendship Rock Baptist Church.. "If that was anti-semitic, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
"If the signs go up, we'll walk off the buses," Tatum said.
He has not been in contact with officials at The T, but Tatum said employees have contacted him to complain about being forced to drive buses that display messages they consider insulting.
Tatum called the signs' message "ungodly foolishness."
"It's a slap in the face to millions of Christians in our country," he said.
Other pastors in the community say they are supportive if a boycott happens, but have a different take on the situation.
"If the Fort Worth pastors come together and say there will be a bus boycott I will support that," said Ralph W. Emerson Jr., senior pastor of Rising Star Baptist Church. "The signs on the buses for me are not offensive, because they paid to advertise God. And, me riding the bus does not say that I am in agreement with the signs posted on it."
Bishop B.E. George of a group called Ministers Against Crime said a resolution might be forthcoming after a regularly scheduled ministers’ meeting held later in the morning at the Harvey Avenue church.
“We met with a representative of the T, and what we have now is a project in process,” George said. “It could not be totally resolved today, but we’re at a point of resolving it.”
George declined to disclose specifics about their negotiations with The T.
George said Ministers Against Crime meets with another group, the Ministers Justice Coalition of Texas, once every month at Harvey Avenue Baptist. He said they were not affiliated with Tatum’s group.
“It’s two different approaches,” he said. “From our perspective, it’s going to take some time to get to that point, but it looks like this might head off a boycott.”
Four city buses will display the ads for 30 days.
There are no plans to drop the ads, said Tony Johnson, executive vice president of operations for The T.
“If I don’t put those ads on, I’m probably going to get sued,” Johnson said.
Tatum dismissed the lawsuit threat as a legitimate reason to go ahead with the signs.
“Anybody can file a lawsuit,” he said. “We’re not going to compromise our integrity because someone files a lawsuit.”
Many people have called his office about the issue, Johnson said, mostly those who oppose the signs.
“I don’t anticipate any problems” as far as security on the buses, Johnson said. “We won’t know which routes will see the buses until the signs go up. Another company comes in and puts new signs on as older ones expire, and that’s what determines the routes.”
Johnson met with George’s group later in the morning at the church to discuss a compromise.
“We talked about the policy and how it came to be,” Johnson said. “They talked about their future plans, about approaching us about changing our policy.”
Another advertising matter is on the table, too, Johnson said.
“I’m also talking with another minister this afternoon about maybe buying some ads,” he said. “They’ve bought some before with us.”.
A spokesperson for The T said the signs won't actually be on the buses until Monday.
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657