Apparently, on the issue of the atheist advertisements in Des Moines, DART has asked the atheist group to submit a new advertisement for consideration to be placed on Des Moines area busses.
(See: WHO-TV, Atheist Ads Coming Back?)
I would like to encourage Iowa Atheist and Freethinkers, the organization responsible for the ad, to submit the same advertisement. Here are my reasons.
(1) It is not possible to come up with a less offensive message. Which means that any alternative message that Iowa Atheist and Freethinkers decides to provide will risk being more objectionable and protests against it even more justified. Iowa Atheist and Freethinkers can simply report that in selecting that message they intentionally looked for the least offensive message, and the requirement that they submit a new proposal is akin to requiring that they replace a less offensive message with a more offensive message.
(2) That message, "People who do not believe in God are not alone," is an easy message for bloggers such as me to defend. If Iowa Atheist and Freethinkers substitutes a different message, then defending it might not be so easy. There are some atheist signs I have not only failed to defend but attacked on the grounds that they contain elements of unfounded and unreasoned atheist bigotry and hate-mongering. Sometimes atheists go over the line of what is morally permissible. I would hate to see such a sign come up as a substitution for the one that was originally proposed in Des Moines.
(3) The people who protested the last sign are people who will protest anything that the atheists would submit. They are sitting with their fingers on the buttons of their telephones just aching for a chance to be offended. Trying to avoid their offense is a waste of effort.
(4) Submitting a new sign implies accepting the implication that there was something wrong with the old sign, and that those who were offended by it were justified in their offense.
(5) Accepting these prejudices reinforces them and gives them strength. It gives those who hold these prejudices a sense of vindication and approval, and it sends the message to those who were more neutral the message that this type of prejudice is acceptable.
(6) Accepting that there was something wrong with the original message reinforces the prejudice against it, and establishes a precedent by which other communities can reject the same message in the future. In this case, atheists themselves will be endorsing and promoting the attitude that it is good and proper to be offended by the message, "Those who do not believe in God are not alone."
(7) There is reason to fear that DART will try to bury the issue in red-tape, bogging down the approval process until the issue fades away as old news. This possibility of political trickery is also reason against responding by saying, "DART has not yet told us what was wrong with the original sign." That, too, will put the ball in DART's hands with the power to delay and bury the issue until it goes away.
(8) Any substitute that the Iowa Atheist and Freethinkers submits as an alternative will have to be a rushed decision. Rushed decisions are filled with political and social pitfalls and traps. It increases the chance of a faux pas that could end up being costly in virtue of the fact that it was not well thought out. It is better to go with the option that the organization has had months to consider and reconsider.
(9) Iowa Atheist and Freethinkers has an obligation to its contributors who paid to have that specific advertisement displayed. This is what those contributors paid for, and this is the product that Iowa Atheist and Freethinkers is obligated to deliver, if possible.
(10) The advertisements are already made. The expense has already been paid. DART can restore the original sign much more quickly and at less cost than it would take to approve and create a new sign. It is, all things considered, the option with the least cost and the least hassle.
So, this is the answer I propose.
"We could not come up with an alternative sign that there is less legitimate reason to protest than the sign we had already submitted and that had already been approved. That is why we picked that sign to begin with – because we sought the least offensive message we could think of. The people who protested that sign are going to protest anything we offer in its place, so we have no ability to avoid offending them short of converting to their religion."
Or something along those lines.