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What if Kingston…

There's probably no God
Image used under CC, and with thanks to fabbio.

“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” This colourful, and controversial slogan from the Freethought Association of Canada is slated to adorn the side of city buses in Toronto, Calgary and Halifax, but not in Kingston. Since the message is religious in nature, Kingston Transit’s advertising manager, Lamar Advertising, will not approve the advertisements for display. In fact, the advertising firm’s contract with the City strictly forbids them from accepting any ads that are deemed religious, political or otherwise controversial. Whatever happened to freedom of speech? This begs the question, what if Kingston Transit were to accept such controversial advertising campaigns? Would all hell break loose in the Limestone City?

Lately I’ve observed Kingston Transit buses with empty promotional frames on their exterior, which translates into lost advertising revenue for both the City and taxpayers. The benefits to businesses advertising on a humongous mobile billboard are plenty, but clearly Kingston has a problem ensuring that all available advertising spaces are utilized year-round. Is the City charging too much for these spaces, or are the rules simply too stringent too allow ads that fall into the controversial grey area? From the outside looking in, it’s nearly impossible to offer a totally balanced assessment, however the probable rejection of the Athiest campaign indicates that we’re driving away paying customers. Can we honestly afford to do that during these harsh economic times?

Taxpayers are essentially stock holders in Kingston Transit, and we all want our opinions and beliefs to be equally represented when determining the suitability of advertising content. With that in mind, I think the current regulations are too rigid, and they do not represent the majority of us who can stomach opposing points of view. Although I don’t want our mass transit system to start promoting cigarettes, alcohol, or firearms, I think that we can all accept religious and political messages so long as they are non-discriminatory.

“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” (London Tube ad quoting Douglas Adams). “I am an athiest and that’s it. I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people” (London bus ad quoting Katharine Hepburn). These slogans and more were a part of the Athiest ad campaign that was recently endured by the UK, while London is now richer for the experience. That’s not to say that they simply lined their pockets with controversial advertising gold, but they also put up with the views of those who are not religious, and facilitated a non-violent dialog amongst members of the public. Regardless of our differing spiritual beliefs, I believe that most Kingstonians are tolerant enough to entertain these sorts of slogans.

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Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

6 thoughts on “What if Kingston…

  • February 5, 2009 at 1:17 pm
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    Political I can see. But religious??? Athiest groups will be all for it until their kid comes home and tells them Jesus loves them because a bus said so; Anyone who beleives in God would flip at the advertisment above. I don’t care who you are, or what you beleive. Nobody knows until the day we bite the big one whether there is a higher power, or not. Leave religion to the religious, we scream about keeping it out of politics, I think the same has to apply for advertising.

    Politics on the other hand… different story. It might be a great way to promote policies and ideas to a part of the population that might not normally make the effort to inform themselves. With a 59% voter turn out, I think any steps that can raise awareness and public involvement can only be beneficial.

  • February 5, 2009 at 1:33 pm
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    I agree that nobody really knows what’s on the other end of life, however I think the language used in the campaign reflects that. It says “…probably no god” rather than “…no god”. So in that respect, the statement is in no way, shape of form absolute. If the language was absolute, it would have an entirely different/negative meaning, and that might not be an appropriate message.

  • February 5, 2009 at 8:50 pm
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    So…who’s in charge of that giant “everyone should love Jesus” billboard at Portsmouth and Princess? anyone know? it makes me mad every time I see it. but then, I guess the atheist bus ads would do the same for religious people…I think the same rules need to be applied across the city. if we’re going to limit people’s freedom of expression, lets do it consistently!

  • February 6, 2009 at 12:58 pm
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    While I agree with Rhiannon that having one’s kid come home talking about the Jesus ad on the bus, I have to think that this doesn’t fall into the religious category, as atheists are distinctly NON religious, empirical people. The whole “probably no god” idea is an anti religious statement, not a pro one. As a child, I had to put up with the lord’s prayer in public school, then was yelled at for not standing still at attention when a bhuddist prayer was read over the morning announcements in high school. Churches dominate our landscape everywhere we go, and the Catholic School Board, completely separate and totally religious, is funded by our government! After having gone through enormous guilt as a child, thinking that not praying would send me to hell, and having christian views shoved in my face for most of my life, I find it rather annoying and ironic that such a fervour is stirred up when a humanistic rational view is promoted. Are you telling me that while I can turn on the tv any given sunday and see tv evangelists foaming at the mouth, I don’t have a right to see any opposing views on a bus? Preposterous. The fact is, christian and religious propaganda is everywhere, and for us to limit something on a bus while jesus confronts us in almost every other medium is hypocritical and insulting. It’s a bus people…if you don’t like it you don’t have to look at it. I’d rather have something that encourages critical thinking than just another weight loss ad or cialis. Are you telling me that those things aren’t propaganda for a certain lifestyle??
    But that’s a whole other kettle of fish right there.

  • February 7, 2009 at 11:55 am
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    Im not debating the prescence of Religion in the media or elsewhere, I know the wonderful catholic guilt that exisits from an upbringing in the Catholic school system. One could go on for days about the way the non religious are forced to be exposed to religious opinion and vice versa. I was just responding to the idea that we might as a whole be tolerant enough a city for such an ad campaign, and I really dont think so.

    I guess being someone who prefers to keep my own religious views and experience exactly that my own; I dont see the need or even logic behind a pro or anti religious ad campagin. All Im saying is to me it seems a little contradictory to blast one sides existence in the media but completely support the opposites sides prescence. You cant have it both ways, and I just dont think the 2 sides could agree on advertising ground rules, that everyone would be ‘tolerant’ of. It seems a little too unrealistic.

    But Ive been wrong about stranger things. I guess we wont know how our city would react until it happened.

  • February 10, 2009 at 3:32 pm
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    This campaign which originally spawned in London England and has rapidly spread across the globe faces the same confrontation wherever it goes. The famous atheist and Evolutionary Biology professor at Oxford, RIchard Dawkins, was one of the primary benefactors to this campaign, paying for half of the advertising costs for the first month in London. Despite his support he was perturbed by the fact that the advertisement had to include “probably” and if he had it his way there would be no ambiguity about the existence of God. This objection by the city of London I feel is a reasonable compromise, although I would like to see genuine free speech, municipal transport is controlled by the government and some censorship is almost inevitable. Kingston rejecting the censored version of this ad seems absurd to me. Kingston is home to three post-secondary institutions, one of them is amongst the most prestigious in the world. As a result this city has an extremely high number of people with educations and a very high PHD per capita ratio. For such an educated community to allow the infringement on free speech, is ridiculous. In the words of the famous philosopher (and moderate atheist) Daniel C. Dennett: “Religious allegiance has ramifications too important to be out of bounds to rational inquiry.” This I feel is true and the ad that rationally provokes people to inquire about religion is perfectly acceptable (regardless of the money that it would bring in)

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