Atheist Group Denied COLTS Advertising

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Members of an organization in Scranton say they are being discriminated against because of their lack of religion.

The atheist group wanted to advertise on Lackawanna County buses but were denied. The group thinks its first amendment rights were violated.

Lackawanna County transit buses, called COLTS, travel to almost every corner of the county every day. Ads on the sides of buses act as rolling billboards.

Effective advertising, thought Justin Vacula and other members of the Northeast Pennsylvania Free Thought Society, an atheist group looking to draw in more members.

They took a draft of a banner ad to COLTS, but were denied because of the ads content. The group calls that a first amendment violation.

"Since it's a government agency, COLTS is forced to comply and allow everyone to advertise on their busies and not discriminate based on their message. If they were a private entity they could discriminate all they want, but they're not," Vacula said.

Whether or not this is a free speech issue is still up for debate, but COLTS officials cited an advertising policy when they denied the atheist group.

The policy doesn't allow for ads that could lead to a discussion of public issues.

Vacula did write on his personal web site that the ad would cause public debate, but he said COLTS buses are inconsistent when it comes to religious messages. He showed Newswatch 16 a photo of a COLTS bus that reads "God Bless America."

COLTS is sticking to its advertising policy, but the Free Thought Society plans to take this issue to court.

"We should be able to advertise just like other groups are able to do so. We shouldn't have to water down the message," Vacula added.

The local group hopes a national atheist organization will help in the effort to get the ad on COLTS buses.