Lamar, Canadian Supreme Court in Head-On Collision Over Atheist Billboards

Last Updated Jul 14, 2009 2:51 PM EDT

A ruling of the Canadian Supreme Court which allows "political" advertising on transit systems in the North will test the ethics of Lamar Advertising's religious management. Lamar previously sidestepped the issue of whether it would run ads for atheists by blaming transit authorities' anti-politics stance.

The court held that two British Columbia transit systems' bans on political advertising on their bus fleets violated Canadians' right to free speech. Lamar previously relied on contract language with Canadian transit systems that it felt allowed it to reject atheist ads (it also rejected pro-life Christian ads). Lamar's logic is that the ads attract vandalism.

But Lamar did not have that excuse in Alabama recently, when it outright rejected a client that wanted to run the message "Imagine No Religion" alongside a freeway. Lamar general manager Tom Traylor said he rejected that ad because "It was offensive to me." The court ruling in Canada would appear to mean that if the atheists go back to Lamar to buy bus ads in the North, then Lamar will have to come up with another excuse not to run them. Lamar's sales are down 13 percent this year.

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