Posters banned from railway stations published here

Three posters planned for display at railway stations as part of the The Census Campaign have been refused by companies owning the advertising space, who viewed them as too likely to cause offence.

Census Campaign poster Jedi Census Campaign poster mum Census Campaign poster couple

Click the images for larger versions. (You can view the photos in really high resolution for press purposes at www.humanism.org.uk/census-adverts.)

Two reasons were given by owners of the space: they were concerned that the use of the phrase ‘for God’s sake’ would cause widespread and serious offence and they also did not wish to take adverts relating to religion.

The BHA has reacted with astonishment that an everyday phrase should be deemed too contentious for public display.

‘It is a little tongue-in-cheek,’ BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘but in the same way that saying “bless you” has no religious implication for many, “for God’s sake” is used to express urgency and not to invoke a deity. This censorship of a legitimate advert is frustrating and ridiculous: the blasphemy laws in England have been abolished but we are seeing the same principle being enforced nonetheless.’

The BHA also pointed out that the adverts were only tangenially related to religion, being mostly concerned with public policy and directed towards people who are not religious.

Mr Copson continued, ‘The Census Campaign is not intended to dissuade those who hold strong religious beliefs from holding them. We are asking people to be honest and if they are not religious, to say so. Ticking “No religion” means that their voices will be heard and we will have a more truthful picture of what people really believe today.’

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30 Responses to Posters banned from railway stations published here

  1. Pingback: If you’re not religious for god’s sake say so « Tripod Anything

  2. Peter Barber says:

    Is this the same agency that is happy to allow all manner of hectoring bible passages and veiled threats about eternal damnation to be put up at our bus stops and in our railway stations? If so, then I think there is a good case to be made for getting them some serious negative publicity. … And when did ad agencies acquire a conscience or start worrying about edgy advertising, FGS*?

    * Abbreviated to avoid typing a particular three-letter swear-word which begins with G and ends with OD.

  3. Pingback: Flagship billboards carry original message, ‘If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so’ | The Census Campaign

  4. Pingback: Flagship billboards carry original message, ‘If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so’ | The Census Campaign

  5. smokinggnu says:

    The online census that I have just completed allows you to ‘tick’ both ‘No Religion’ and a religion, in my case ‘Other – Discordian’. I would suggest that this may invalidate the question entirely and open the results up to even greater interpretation depending on how this is handled in the analysis. I suggest we move to have the results for this question disallowed on these grounds!

  6. jorge says:

    this story is excactly why we need proper reresentation of non-christians and a truly pluralistic and secular country. It will be a shame for christians to be overrepresented again.
    but couldn’t whoever made those posters see this coming? they hardly would have to censor the message!
    Though a saying that doesn’t mean what it originally meant, if we weren’t raised in a christian country we wouldn’t instinctively say it. its also down to how you translate the bible, and i’m pretty certain that commandment must have meant a must deeper and serious act than just saying a word. e.g. fraud and deception based on a fake religious premise.

  7. Bryan Dibben says:

    I’m with the camp that says this is GOOD NEWS

    It gives plenty of opportunity for further publicity that far outweigh the actual benefits a few posters would have generated. The PR team should work hard and fast to capitalise on this good fortune.

  8. Malcolm Bale says:

    As a Christian, I fully support this campaign. People should be honest and the census should reflect the facts. And if we can get atheists to do anything for God’s sake, that’s even better!

  9. Steve Hill says:

    Is it too late to run a less contentious poster at these sites?

    • Bob Churchill says:

      He Steve
      Rail companies partnered with the media agency apparently said they wouldn’t take Census Campaign ads even with a completely different slogan. We do have buses from the same agency with a different slogan.
      The reality, of course, is that many people have seen the posters designed for train stations today who wouldn’t have done.

  10. Jeremy Rodell says:

    This is supposed to be a marketing campaign to persuade people who might easily tick the “Christian” box out of habit to tick “No religion” instead. It’s not trying to score points for atheism or make already-committed humanists feel good. So the acid test is whether it’s likely to be effective in doing the job. Rightly or wrongly, “for God’s sake” is a problem for the people who control the advertising space. That it risked causing upset somewhere along the line was perhaps easy to predict. It turns out to have been a major error. Maybe a lesson for the future is to focus on the main objective and avoid unnecessary risks.

    • Bob Churchill says:

      Hi Jeremy
      The thing is, a dry slogan which doesn’t turn heads is a bit of a risk in marketing terms, too! Actually the ads are being seen and the media is quickly re-focusing on the substance of the campaign. A “major error” would have been if no one had talked about them. (Not that we could have predicted that a phrase so obviously used in a jokey and paradoxical way would have caused this particular stir!)

  11. Natalie says:

    As someone who picked up English as a grown-up when moving to this country in the late 90s, FG’sS has always been an interesting expression because people disagree on its use, and I mean both religious and non-religious people.

    Other comments on this page show how non-religious people disagree on its use but it’s worth pointing out that religious people disagree too. Some religious friends of mine use it almost exclusively while some others do not because they say it’s blaspheme. So it seems that the expression has gone beyond its original meaning/intention and is now simply part of everyday English vocabulary and makes this ban unfair.

    Having said that, I know a few humanists at my local group who didn’t like the choice of slogan and feared it would be seen as offensive (I found it humorous myself but sometimes, there is a thin line between humorous and offensive) – I guess they are proved right.

  12. mark Foot says:

    I agree with saying no on the census; I have decided to go further and not reply to it at all. If a USA arms maker, lookheed, is the company involved with collecting information, I feel it’s our duty to refuse to support this. hopefully they will not be sending a guided missile to make me comply?

    • Jeremy Rodell says:

      Mark – I can see your concern but a) that will be one less “no religion” person in the count b) it’s illegal not to comply c) the personal data are strictly confidential, only the analysis is shared.

  13. I guess I’m waaaay too late to this, but I came up with the slogan, “You are not alone” for the Humanist Census campaign. I think it works on so many levels; plays on the ‘someone watching over you’ message of religions, but reassures non believers that there is an organisation for them to turn to, and like minded people support them through difficult times It of goes against the perception of atheism as some kind of solitary furrow. What do you all think?

  14. Julie Turner says:

    I’m not a believer but I have been known to come out with this saying, to me that’s all it is, a saying, normally when your exasperated at a total lack of common sense!!
    It’s not to offend believers or non-believers, if the saying can’t be put in print because it MIGHT OFFEND does that mean it must now NEVER be used in say radio or television because it MIGHT OFFEND?
    What about if you read it in a magazine… do you punish the editor because what they have allowed in print wording that MIGHT OFFEND?? Just where does stupidity end & common sense begin??
    You’d be forgiven for reading the heading of the article and thinking ‘for Gods sake’- as I said a total lack of common sense.

  15. Bill Trafford says:

    Presumably we’ll be able to look out for any other religious adverts and ensure that they aren’t accepted.

  16. Ben Bale says:

    I agree with Perdita above. I support this campaign and will certainly be putting “no religion” however I did sigh when I saw “for god’s sake”. Yes, I know you’re trying to make a clever pun, but simplicity is key here, don’t let a serious issue get washed over because of a debate about language.

    There’s also way too much text on the posters, but that’s just me looking at it from a marketing point of view.
    Surely something like the below gets the middle poster’s point across far quicker and would have a higher conversion rate?

    “TWO COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD HAVE UNELECTED RELIGIOUS LEADERS IN THEIR PARLIAMENTS. IRAN AND THE UK.

    IF YOU’RE NON-RELIGIOUS – PUT SENSE INTO THE CENSUS”

    • Bill Trafford says:

      (Cameron is on record as not believing in God)

    • I too felt dubious when I saw the campaign heading – for all the reasons mentioned above. But, also coming at it from a marketing perspective, I understand the point. Controversy turns heads and makes headlines.
      Ben, I agree about too much text – and I like your offering! (Although surely it’s more than two? Just want to clarify as would like to pinch it for some of our local campaigning…)

  17. Adam Richardson says:

    This is edging on them accusing the census campaign of blasphemy. Or at least anticipating and taking the side of those who would in turn make that accusation! I mean, Christ! God only knows what people will be offended by next!

  18. Katie Cole says:

    I also agree with the campaign, but have concerns about “for God’s sake”. It’s not something that I say and was brought up not to, initially out of respect for God, now out of respect for other’s religions. There is a strong point to make in the census campaign that can be easily made without offending others.

  19. Pinocchio says:

    I find it offensive that we are supposed to tip toe around an imaginary being, it’s ridiculous. It’s the 21’st century isn’t it or is it the 12th? If the ad said “For Pinocchio’s sake” would that get banned too?

  20. Owen says:

    I would view it as an everyday expression – I’m not religious, but occasionally surprise myself when it slips out. If believers are that sensitive, why not change it to “For G*d’s sake”? This would also emphasise how ridiculous it is that you can’t say the word for fear of upsetting some folk…

  21. James Hunter says:

    “For God’s sake” seems an illogical phrase to use in the first place. Perhaps “For Goodness sake” would have been better.

  22. Perdita Stevens says:

    I’m a supporter of this campaign, but actually I winced at the “for God’s sake” wording and I’m not surprised it wasn’t acceptable. I disagree that it’s an everyday expression when used by a non-religious speaker – I certainly don’t use it, and if I hear it from someone, I assume that person is religious. What’s wrong with “for goodness’ sake?”

    • Rhi James says:

      Wait? What? You assume that someone is religious when you hear them blaspheme?That’s nonsense.