Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Silencing the Atheist Bus Campaign

Last year, the Atheist Bus Campaign raised $20,000 in the space of a few days to stick the message "there's probably no god, now stop worrying and enjoy your life" on the side of buses. Unfortunately, there's a problem: NZBus, which had previously accepted the advertisements, has suddenly changed its mind and refused to carry them after pre-emptive complaints from members of the public. The bigots have exercised a heckler's veto.

The problem for NZBus is that their behaviour is blatantly unlawful. The Human Rights Act 1993 makes it clear that religion, or its absence, is a prohibited ground of discrimination - making it illegal to discriminate on religious grounds in the provision of goods and services. Just as a shopkeeper can't refuse to sell their product (say, bread) to Maori, NZBus can't refuse to sell their product (advertising) to atheists.

NZBus clearly knows this - they've refused mediation through the Human Rights Commission. The Atheist Bus Campaign is now looking at taking them to the Human Rights Review Tribunal (let's hope they don't get Brian Neeson as a panel member, since they clearly won't get a fair hearing under him).

In the meantime, its worth remembering that NZBus receives millions of dollars in subsidies to run public transport services in Auckland, Wellington, the Hutt Valley and Whangarei. If you think its inappropriate for your rates to fund unlawful discrimination, perhaps you should raise this with your city councillor.