The so-called "atheist bus campaign" rolled out recently and the predictable flood of complaints has begun. The ASA, who handle complaints about advertising in the UK, have received 150 or more messages from disgruntled members of the public. According to the Guardian 39 of them weren't even about the ads themselves, but about reportage covering the campaign.
The more valid complaints have been about offensiveness, and more of that in a moment, but the ever-hilarious Stephen Green of Christian Voice notoriety has decided to plump for a "truth and misleadingness" basis for his grumble. This is an interesting tact to take. Sadly, many of the commentators who have suggested that the arising adjudication will hinge on Green, or anyone for that matter, proving the existence of God, are mistaken. The advertiser has to prove its claims, and not the plaintiff. However, the claim in question is that there "probably is no god". Demonstrating the improbability of the existence of a deity will be much more straightforward than proving the inexistence of one, something Green seems not to have realised, blinded, no doubt, by his own faith.
What I find more interesting is the idea that the ads are offensive. The claim is not specific to any religion, something which is perhaps muddied a little by being in uppercase - the sentiment is clearly that there is likely no lowercase-g god. It may be that to a member of a particular religion that this makes no difference - no god logically means no Jehovah, no Allah, no Krsna, no Thor, no Mithra and so on. Where it does become significant is as part of the wider picture. Here's an ad for a church. Its suggestion is that Jesus is real, and alive today. It's advocating a God that is false in the eyes of other religions; and yet these ads do not receive complaints from members of other religions. You won't find many column inches decrying this blasphemous bit of advertising.
The tired old cliché came out for an airing, based again on the above misunderstanding. Would the campaign have been given the go ahead if the slogan had been "there probably is no Allah"? That is already what the campaign says; the Humanists do not want to single out any particular god - it'd be a wasted opportunity, and would misrepresent their beliefs. The rebuttal to the cliché would be "if this was a campaign for Allah, would you still find it distasteful and offensive?"
For whatever illogical reason, there is something more inciteful about an atheist campaign, and whatever that might be, the complaints arising from the ads, if upheld, will open the floodgates for atheists and others to complain about equally offensive and unsubstantiated pro-religious ads. I suspect that the ASA will be aware of this too, and rather than creating a de facto ban on any form of religous advertising outright, will choose instead to tell the complainants that they really need to be a bit more tolerant about other people's beliefs, and that, really and truly, it's not always about them.
EDIT - 21/01/09 The ASA decided not to pursue the complaints.