A church minster in New Zealand has branded as "regrettable", the decision by a bus company not to allow atheist bus slogans to be displayed on its buses, and called for a rethink.
Archdeacon Glynn Cardy, vicar of St Matthew-in-the-City in Auckland, says NZ Bus's decision last month to stop the display of paid adverts showing atheistic slogans similar to those which appeared in the UK last year, should be revisited.
The NZ Atheist Bus Campaign has raised nearly $23,000 from public donations for the ads that read: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."
Similar campaigns have now also run in Australia and the United States.
NZ Bus tentatively approved the ads for buses in major centres, but backed down after receiving complaints from the public and staff.
Archdeacon Cardy, who last year put up a controversial billboard outside his church showing Mary and Joseph in bed, hoped NZ Bus would review its decision.
Glynn Cardy told Ekklesia: “The decision of NZ Bus to prohibit the display of so-called atheistic slogans is regrettable. Similar slogans overseas used such wording and have fomented much debate.
“There are many Christians who although not atheistic do not wish for those of differing beliefs, including those of such slogans, to be censored. Their view would coincide with Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s words ‘I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’
“Free speech is an important principle undergirding both democracy and spiritual inquiry. Although there are some limits to free speech, for example hate speech and pornography, the onus should be upon those wanting to restrain free expression to prove their case. Free speech should be the norm, censorship the exception.
“The proposed atheist campaign brings into the public eye a debate about the nature and existence of God. This is a debate that many Christians want to engage in.
“The seeming capitulation of NZ Bus to those fearful of discussing theological ideas is a sad reflection upon our society. What are we afraid of? Is God, or any belief, so sacrosanct that it can’t be publicly debated? Are we frightened of discussion and difference?
“Buses these days seem to carry a number of advertisements some of which promote the consumption of alcohol, a diet of violent television, and other messages that could be seen to be morally questionable. Most advertising is encouraging us to buy, whether the product is essential or not. How refreshing it is to see advertising that is not asking us to buy anything, aspire to be slim, or sell us a lifestyle we can’t afford. How refreshing that the advertising simply asks us to think, not worry, and enjoy life.
“I hope NZ Bus will review their decision.”
But Lyndsay Freer, spokeswoman for the Auckland Catholic Diocese, told the New Zealand Herald, that NZ Bus made the right decision by turning down the ads and described the campaign as disturbing and concerning.
"Whether one's faith is Christian or Muslim or Jewish or various other faiths, the majority of New Zealanders do have a personal belief in God, however they understand God."