ARLINGTON -- North Texas atheists trying to show the public that they are family-friendly neighbors ended up in a media war this week with an Arlington movie theater they believed would show ads starting on Good Friday.
The Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason said it signed a contract with Screenvision, a New York-based advertising company, for an ad set to begin running Friday at the Movie Tavern at Green Oaks but was told that the ad won't run after a TV news report detailing the coalition's campaign.
The disagreement comes as the coalition holds its annual campaign to educate people about their community and Christians prepare for Holy Week.
"We wanted to portray ourselves as an organization of families, which we are," said Zachary Moore, coalition coordinator. "We have just been taught a lesson in discrimination by the Movie Tavern."
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But Mary Lester, a spokeswoman for Dallas-based Movie Tavern, said it didn't pull any ads.
"It was reported that an advertisement of a religious nature was scheduled to run in one of our locations," Lester said. "That is incorrect. Movie Tavern has not and will not run ads of a religious nature."
Lester did not answer more questions about the issue.
Moore said the coalition is a 3-year-old umbrella organization that links atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and humanists.
Every year, the group puts together an information campaign about itself to let the public know that atheists are OK. The campaign typically centers on a billboard ad, but this year the coalition also bought pre-show ads at Movie Tavern.
The group said it worked out a deal with Screenvision, which handles ad sales for Movie Tavern. "Everything was signed," Moore said. "We sent them a deposit check. They cashed it."
Sal Cataldi, a spokesman for Screenvision, said clients can decide whether to run ads. The deal was never consummated, he said, adding that the person handling the account is no longer with the company.
"They were informed it wasn't going to run," Cataldi said. "We are refunding the payment."
The ad was supposed to start running on Good Friday, which was characterized as a "curious coincidence." Moore said it also happens to be the Jewish Passover, the Buddhist new year and the Hindu festival of the birth of the monkey god Hanuman.
The ad depicts several families that are atheist or agnostic and says, "What Makes Our Families Beyond Belief? Find out at DFWCoR." The group expected to pay about $3,000 to run the ad for about six months, Moore said.
But he said the ad appeared to be pulled after a local television station's report.
"We are trying to find another theater that will carry us," he said. "We are actually considering our legal actions at this point."
Meanwhile, the campaign continues. A digital billboard ad on Interstate 30 and Belt Line Road in Grand Prairie promotes the group. The ad shows families and says, "Our Families are Great Without Religion."
Laura Cox, whose family is featured on the billboard, said there are a lot of misperceptions about atheists
"Our families really are just like everyone else's," said Cox, adding that she wants to raise children to be good citizens.
Moore said the coalition wants to let atheists know it's OK to have their beliefs in a society that is mostly religious and views them with suspicion.
"If you look up godless in the dictionary, one of the definitions is an evil person," Moore said. "People think we are bad people or immoral people."
The coalition has also promoted activism among area high school and college students. It supports local chapters of the Secular Student Alliance, a national organization helping organize and unite atheist students, the coalition said in a news release.
On April 14, the coalition and alliance will sponsor the North Texas Secular Student Convention at the Frisco campus of Collin College. About 200 students and other local atheists are expected to attend.
The Movie Tavern situation isn't the first time the coalition's advertising has stirred media attention.
In December 2010, the group bought ads from the Fort Worth Transportation Authority. Critics of the ad worked to pressure T drivers to not operate buses carrying the ad and asked riders to boycott the transit system. In the end, the T banned any religious advertisements.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675