The Strange Case of Suppressing Atheism: Texan Theaters Reject Ads Again

Religious roots run deep in the culture of places and this is exemplified by communities who generate controversies out of religious preference and majority. It’s reflected in the culture of privilege and demonstrated by common uses of shrill behavior by vocal minorities who are backed up by quietly agreeing moderate majorities.

The current case that’s unfolding itself in Texas between a movie theater in Arlington, the Green Oaks Movie Tavern, and another one in Plano, the Angelika Film Center. In this case, the Dallas-Forth Worth Coalition of Reason sought to run family-oriented ads before movies (the advertisements are quite adorable, actually) but two times now they’ve been rejected by movie theaters on the basis of apparent policy or complaints after a deal had been struck to run them.

Advertisements connected to atheist interests commonly give rise to fake, astroturfed controversy. Although some of the campaigns have been loaded with deliberately caustic messages such as, “You know it’s a myth,” others have relegated themselves to simple messages such as “If you don’t believe in God, you’re not alone.” Both generate an equal level of surprise and appeal in local communities and with media organizations.

The DFWCOR advertisements display images of happy families, elderly, and smiling faces along with the message: “What makes our families beyond belief?” and “Our families are great without religion.”

Nothing stands out as controversial about this campaign. In fact, it’s possibly even more tame than any others that have received even more attention.

The first theater in Arlington rejected the advertisements after the deal was struck cited that they refused to run any religion-related ads before movies. FOX News, a news outlet well known for political and asocial distortion in their reporting, ran the story as if the advertisements were “directed at children,” rather than intended to be run in front of all movies at the theater.

The second theater in Plano recently agreed to take the advertisements, but then suddenly turned around and rejected them citing complaints from the community. Updates to the story have suggested that the decision to reject the ads came not from the theater itself, but further up the corporate chain. They had received complaints from people who had seen an article suggesting that the ads would be coming.

The story is still building, but this one is coming across like a very anti-social community intent on pushing these advertisements out of their sphere of influence.

For one, there’s literally nothing blatantly offensive about these ads to the reasonable ordinary person. Why certain community members felt the need to complain about it and the theater corporation decided to cave to their complaints feels somewhat strange.

We’ve seen this behavior several times before. With bus companies attempting to suppress or reject ads of an irreligious nature, with the florists surrounding Jessica Alquist who refused to deliver to her (although at least one was legitimately closed for the day), and even with billboard companies who refuse to put up advertisements for atheist groups. That’s not to say that advertisements haven’t been going up–sometimes not without a fight–but that there should be a fight at all, especially when billboards and bus ads in these networks run sectarian religious ads already.

I guess this wouldn’t be so apparent or demonstrable in the theater situation if the theater had done their homework initially (in the case of the “no religious ads” policy) and if the second one hadn’t accepted the ads just to have their corporate home office overrule them after that acceptance.

The problem is possibly all about exposure. If a few complaints from a small number of people can get an advertisement pulled; I wonder how many counter-complaints it will take for them to put it back up again or at least understand that they’re not dealing with a tiny minority of people they can just step on without consequence. It shouldn’t be necessary, but social pressure is already being used by one set of petty individuals.

The theaters in Plano do run advertisements for local religious organizations on a regular basis, so an atheist organization like DFWCOR wouldn’t be out of place amidst them.