The ads ask commuters, “Why believe in a god?” and encourages them to “Just be good for goodness sake.”
Some experts from religious groups criticized the AHA’s campaign, saying that morality and the intention to do good is based on belief in God.
“We don’t want atheists to be left alone in their convictions over the holidays,” said Roy Speckhardt, the AHA’s executive director, who announced the ad campaign at the National Press Club.
“Morality doesn’t come from religion. It’s a set of values based on empathy, fairness, and experience – and these all happen to be the essence of the humanist worldview.”
But Peter Sprigg, vice president of policy at the conservative Family Research Council (FRC), told CNSNews.com that sustainable morality is grounded in a belief in a higher being.
“I don’t think it’s possible to sustain long-term morality without religion,” Sprigg said. “If there is no higher being obliging humans to act morally and ethically, why should we do it?”
Sprigg emphasized he thinks that atheists can act morally, but he also said that society would shift towards greed and selfishness without a belief in a higher power.
Despite the question posed by the placards, “Why believe in a god?” Fred Edwords, director of communications for the AHA, told CNSNews.com that the ad campaign is not targeted at religious people but at skeptics and humanists.
“We begin with the rhetorical question, ‘Why believe in a god?’ and this is our way of suggesting that belief is unnecessary,” Edwords told CNSNews.com.
Edwords said that the ads are part of a conversation between the AHA, skeptics and humanists, but everyone else can listen in.
“Trying to proselytize religious people over to an atheistic worldview is kind of a quixotic venture,” Edwords said.
He added that some people may be offended by the ads but insult is not the intention of the AHA’s campaign.
However, Edwords added that bigotry against atheism played a role in the Senate race in North Carolina where incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) ran ads linking her challenger Kay Hagen to a political action committee called “Godless Americans.”
Speckhardt said Dole’s ad reflected “the campaign spewing unforgivable religious bigotry,” and it should have been condemned widely across America. Dole lost the election to Hagan.
Bill Donohue, president of the conservative Catholic League, responded to the AHA’s campaign in a press statement on Tuesday.
“Codes of morality, of course, have always been grounded in religion,” said Donohue. “We know that militant secularists are busy flexing their muscles these days, but is it too much to expect them to act rationally?”
Edwords said that secular humanism is on the rise. “This is just the beginning,” he said. “You’ll be hearing a lot from us. We hope to expand to other cities with new and different humanist impact.”
A representative for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority told CNSNews.com that it does not deal with the content of ads unless they are deemed to be lewd or obscene.