Launch of the Atheist Buses

The Atheist Bus Campaign launched on 6 January 2009 in Hyde Park with endorsements from Humanists UK President Polly Toynbee, Humanists UK Patron Richard Dawkins, Humanists UK Vice President A C Grayling, comedian Robin Ince and the Bus Campaign team.

Click the thumbnails below for larger versions of photographs. Then-BHA Chief Executive Hanne Stinson’s speech follows after.

   
   

Hanne Stinson, Chief Executive, British Humanist Association, gave the following speech.

As Ariane has said, the Atheist Bus Campaign has been quite amazing.

When we – Humanists UK – decided to join Ariane and Jon Worth as partners in the campaign, we felt pretty optimistic about being able to raise enough money for a few adverts on a few London buses, and of course more confident when Richard Dawkins offered to match donations.

Now there is a man who must be feeling mighty relieved that he put a £5,500 ceiling on his offer – otherwise – as of yesterday – he would be forking out £135,000!

The morning the appeal was launched was unbelievable.  I found myself standing by the Thames desperately trying to get off my mobile phone for long enough to go into a meeting at the Equality and Human Rights Commission – but taking one media call after another.  And I know that Andrew Copson (our Director of Education and Public Affairs – over there) was doing exactly the same, as was Ariane herself.

And that went on for several days – everything else just went out of the window.

Of course, had we known we were going to get that level of media interest we would have cleared the decks.

And had we known that we were going to get nearly half a million hits on our website in that one day, we might have warned the people who host our website.

As it was, the level of traffic didn’t only take our website down for a couple of hours, it took down all the other websites hosted on the whole cluster of web servers – all 80 of them! That’s Eight Zero.

But the thing that I find most remarkable, is the sheer number of people making small donations.

It’s wonderful that some people have been able to donate large amounts, but the huge bulk of that £135,000 has been given in small donations – £10, £5, £2, sometimes the odd £20 thrown in – and that means that an awful lot of people out there were happy to pay good money just to see the atheist campaign slogan on the side of a bus.

We’ve always known that huge numbers of people in the UK have non-religious beliefs.

Polls give very different figures, depending on the exact wording of the question, but they generally show around 30-40% of the population as non-religious, even higher, around 60-65%, for young people.

And I think that what this campaign has shown is that many of those people don’t feel that they have a voice, or don’t feel that their voice is being heard.

What we, as Humanists UK, need to do now, is to make sure that we use the high profile that this campaign has already achieved, and the interest raised by the 800 buses out on the streets for the next 4 weeks, and by the adverts on the tube network from next week … We need to use all that to make sure that those non-religious people’s voices are heard – alongside the voices of those who do have religious beliefs.

Because we all, whether we have religious or non-religious beliefs, have a right to be heard, and no one particular set of beliefs has any more right to influence the public debate than any other.

Humanists UK exists to promote humanism and to support and represent people who lead their lives without religious or superstitious beliefs.

We do that by providing education and educational resources on humanism for schools; by organising lectures and other events; by providing humanist funerals and other non-religious ceremonies; by campaigning on behalf of humanists and other people with non-religious beliefs – by giving non-religious people a voice.  And by working for equality in public life and public institutions for religious and non-religious beliefs.

We campaign for inclusive state schools that don’t discriminate in their admissions policies; we campaign for balanced teaching about different beliefs and values; we campaign for an end to ‘collective worship’ in our schools; we campaign for an end to the automatic right of Bishops to sit in our parliament; we campaign for an end to the bias in favour of religion in public broadcasting; we campaign to remove the loopholes in discrimination law that allow religious organisations – even those delivering statutory public services – to discriminate against people who do not share their beliefs, and we campaign for a rational approach to public ethical issues – especially bioethical issues such as embryo research or assisted dying for the terminally ill, where religious lobbying is particularly strong.

Of course we hope that some of the thousands of people who have supported the Atheist Bus Campaign will go on to support the work that Humanists UK does on behalf of its members, and on behalf of humanists and the non-religious more generally.

The Atheist Bus Campaign has been – and is – an overwhelmingly positive campaign.

The message isn’t aimed at people with religious beliefs – it’s aimed at atheists and agnostics.

Most commentators have recognised it as a simple statement of non-religious belief, and appreciate that it is designed to reassure people that it’s OK not to be religious; that if you are not religious, there is absolutely no reason to worry about that, and that people can lead a happy, enjoyable and rewarding life without religion.  And of course most non-religious people recognise that the best way of leading a happy, enjoyable, positive and rewarding life is by working with, cooperating with, and supporting other people to do the same.

I would like to thank everyone who has helped to make the Atheist Bus Campaign a success.

I am not going to list everyone – not least because I would be bound to miss someone.

But I do particularly want to thank Ariane Sherine for starting the ball (or indeed the buses) rolling. I want to thank Jon Worth who turned it into a practical campaign with his pledge bank idea. I want to thank Richard Dawkins for his invaluable contribution.  And I want to thank the media for getting the story out there.

But most of all, I want to thank every single individual who has given a donation – large or small – to the Atheist Bus Campaign.  Because without them, we wouldn’t now have 800 buses driving around the country with “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” plastered on the side.

Thank you all.

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