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Transit Bus Operator Protests Ad, Gets Suspended

August 27, 2009

The Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) on Aug. 17 suspended a bus operator after she refused to drive a bus that carried an advertisement promoting an atheist group, according to the Des Moines Register. The bus operator, Angela Shiel, said the ad went against her Christian faith. The ad, promoting the group Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers, stated "Don't believe in God? You are not alone." 

Roxanne Conlin, a civil rights lawyer in Des Moines, said Shiel has a right to refuse to drive if DART can reasonably accommodate a validly held religious belief. For example, DART might have been able to transfer her to a different bus or let her do desk work.

DART removed the ads from the buses earlier this month after riders complained. DART returned the ads to the buses after receiving new complaints from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa. 

The ads were put back on 20 buses in DART's fleet last week. 

Shiel's husband said DART officials knew about his wife's beliefs when they hired her.

"This has been her faith since the very first day on the job," Glenn Shiel said. He said that making her drive the bus would be telling her to be "two-faced for the fact that she wants an income."

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