Snyder: CyRide’s efforts to avoid debate cause problems with issue neutrality

Certain ads in the CyRide buses, including those from Planned Parenthood, Birthright and Informed Choices of Ames, have a disclaimer on the ads saying that CyRide does not endorse them.

Stephen Snyder

If you have ever jammed yourself into the sardine cans that are the CyRide campus buses, then you have also probably read every advertisement lining the top edges of those buses in an attempt to avoid that painfully awkward eye contact with strangers or that girl or guy you made a fool of yourself in front of the night before.

When you are staring up into the air, half reading the ads, half hoping you can reach to pull the cord and squeeze through the crowd to the door when you reach your stop, did you ever notice the disclaimers on a few very specific ads?

CyRide notes on the bottom of advertisements for Planned Parenthood, Birthright of Ames and Informed Choices of Ames that it does not endorse the organizations.

The decision to place the disclaimer on certain advertisements that tends to polarize public opinion and spark debate is likely just a public relations move, but it reflects the direction that we are headed as a culture.

The disclaimers show our culture’s growing oversensitivity to the views and beliefs of others, and they are somewhat discouraging when we live in a place that is supposed to celebrate the expression of ideas and opinions of all people.

It is somewhat understandable for CyRide to disassociate itself from these organizations because of people’s religious and moral opposition to their purposes. 

I understand CyRide’s hesitance to even appear as though it promotes these organizations even though I am a decidedly liberal individual, especially concerning matters related to women’s rights to control their own bodies.

The Hotel Memorial Union removed the complementary Bibles from all of its rooms in spring 2014 due to a guest’s complaint that said the university was endorsing one religion over others and was forcing Christian ideals on its guests. 

Likewise, if CyRide endorsed a nonreligious company like Planned Parenthood, it could receive complaints from people who do not support the values expressed in the advertisements.

The growing oversensitivity of our nation is leading to the stifling of people and cultures whose ideas and ideals are different or unpopular. 

I do not think it is a good sign for a free nation founded on the principles of free expression and open public forums to be going this direction, but the precedent for such stifling exists.

The only positive trait that I can attribute to CyRide is that it is at least consistent in its disassociation. 

Birthright of Ames has the exact same disclaimer attached to its advertisement even though it does not offer the exact same services as Planned Parenthood and Informed Choices of Ames.

This says that CyRide is not taking a side in the debate, just as its corporate advertising guidelines say it must avoid doing in the interest of never becoming a public forum. At least we can say that it is not wholly rejecting the advertising just in the interest of avoiding controversy or complaints.

More to the point of censorship, the only ads that CyRide does not permit on or in its vehicles are those that concern alcohol or tobacco.

The debate back and forth between conservative, possibly religious individuals and liberal, possibly nonreligious individuals in the social sphere has led to unfortunate growth of censorship in media in our country.

Why is it that people cannot look at an ad or watch a television show that they find offensive and then say, “Hey, I do not agree with what that ad is saying, so I think I will turn my head slightly to the left” or “This show makes jokes that I find to be in bad taste, so I think I might change the channel?”

The culture of censorship for which we as a nation seem to be constantly setting more and more precedents is frightening.

There are certainly examples of free expression that I wish I could stifle or that I could get the law to stifle. 

However, I will never ask for those laws to come about because I know those laws would eventually come back to my expressions and I would end up a hypocrite if I tried to fight them.

I implore everyone to love what they love and believe what they believe, but also to allow others the freedom to express their own preferences and passions.