SEATTLE – Few things direct us, define us and, sometimes, divide us like labels.
Especially religious ones.
This week you'll find a dozen metro buses sporting one of those labels: Atheist.
The Seattle Atheists have purchased ad space on 12 King County Metro bus routes. Four king-sized banner ads will show "everyday" scenes: four hikers, four knitters, four commuters at a bus stop, and a family of four decorating a Christmas tree.
Each has the slogan, “One in 4 is an atheist” and includes a link to the campaign web page.
The groups cites the 2008 American Religion Identification Survey (ARIS), in which 25 percent of respondents from Washington picked "no religion" under the faith category.
Board member Ericka Johnson said the goal of the campaign is to encourage people to realize there are more "non-believers" than they are aware of, and to be willing to get to know them better. The group also hopes to encourage closeted non-believers to express themselves.
"Just because someone says they're 'no religion' doesn't mean they're atheist, right?" asked Seattlite Roniq Bartanen.
The 2008 ARIS actually included agnostics, humanists, and secularists under the same category. Nationally, only 0.7 percent of respondents identified themselves specifically as "atheist."
"But if all those people if they're without God that's what atheist means," Johnson said.
“Atheists are pretty much like everyone else,” said Eileen Cabalo of Seattle Atheists in a statement. “They’re bus drivers and engineers, baristas and doctors, smart people who take pride in their work, love their families, and appreciate the great things about America, just like religious people.”
In 2009, religious groups were in an uproar when Metro ran an atheist ad reading "Yes, Virginia, there is no God."
This year's ad campaign almost didn't happen, but for other reasons.
Last year, after a pro-Palestinian group tried to buy ad space for billboards referring to "Israeli War Crimes," King County Metro Transit passed a policy that banned anything advocating a political, religious or social opinion.
But then someone got through.
"We saw Mormon ads," said Johnson, referring to a recent ad blitz by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints showcasing a diverse group of individuals along with the phrase "I am Mormon."
A Metro spokesperson said those ads got the green light because they only stated facts, not positions.
In other words, the board decided "I am Mormon" is okay, while "Be a Mormon" would not have been.
Heartened by the news, Johnson said the Seattle Atheists moved forward with the plans.
The ads are scheduled to run through mid-January.