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Port Authority reaches settlement with atheist-friendly group over advertising

| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 4:51 p.m.

The Port Authority of Alle­gheny County agreed to pay $20,000 plus legal fees to settle a lawsuit by a group that wanted to run an ad on buses seeking people who don't believe in God.

The settlement, made public in federal court documents filed on Wednesday, doesn't allow United Coalition of Reason Inc. of Washington to run its ad but should lead to a more consistent enforcement by the authority of its advertising policy, said Fred Edwords, the coalition's national director.

“We'll be watching, and we'll be seeing if they apply the rules fairly,” he said.

Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said the agency settled to avoid further costs and the uncertainty of litigation.

The coalition, which helps local atheist, agnostic and other nontheist groups gain visibility, sued the authority when it rejected an ad that said, “Don't believe in God? You are not alone,” and included the website of a local affiliate.

Edwords said one reason the coalition sued is that after the authority rejected its ad, it allowed others to run similar ads that violated the advertising policy. The coalition preferred a settlement allowing it to run the ad but thinks fair enforcement of the policy is a good result, Edwords said.

The court will decide how much the authority owes the coalition in legal fees, he said.

In notices filed by lawyers for both sides, the authority denies liability on the coalition's claim that it violated the group's civil rights.

If the coalition had rejected the offer and gone to trial, the rules for federal lawsuits would have barred it from collecting legal expenses accrued after the offer date unless a jury awarded more than $20,000 in damages.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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