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Deutsche Bahn Bans Advertising for Secular Bus Campaign

A question of neutrality


Poster for the Secular Bus Campaign 2019

Deutsche Bahn has banned large posters to advertize the "Secular Bus Campaign" that will start at the beginning of May in Berlin's railway stations. Reason: "lack of neutrality". While this assessment is correct - though it does not apply to the poster series, which explicitly promotes the neutrality of the state, instead it applies to Deutsche Bahn AG, which stands partial on the side of the churches.​

As a 100 percent state-owned corporation, Deutsche Bahn should adhere to the constitutional requirement of worldview neutrality, i.e. treat religious and non-religious worldviews equally. Yet there is little evidence for this. That is demonstrated, for example, by the fact that Deutsche Bahn will be the "main sponsor" of the Protestant Church Day this year. In this context, DB had already presented its own locomotive with the slogan of the Church Day "Was für ein Vertrauen" in January 2019 under great fuss, which will "move Intercity and Eurocity trains on different routes across Germany as the Church Day's rolling ambassador".

At German railway stations, religious advertising is part of everyday life (see gallery below), even religious splinter groups are provided with advertising space by the Deutsche Bahn. When the interests of religion-free people were to be promoted, Deutsche Bahn saw the limits of what is reasonable. The incident occurred as early as February 2019 - a few weeks after DB presented its Church Day locomotive in Berlin. Communication designer Peder Iblher (Blu Dot) booked several large posters for the Giordano Bruno Stiftung (gbs) via Ströer-Media for April 2019 at Berlin's main and suburban railway stations, including the upper platform of Berlin's main railway station. Only the permission of the Deutsche Bahn AG was missing, technically a mere formality. But Deutsche Bahn banned the advertisements because of "lack of neutrality", as Iblher was informed on February 4.

The communication designer was surprised: "Our posters may be biting, but they are by no means aggressive or even militant. They show in a humorous way why now, 100 years after the Weimar Constitution came into effect, we should finally put an end to the unconstitutional church privileges. I did not expect that a campaign so friendly and in view of real grievances - think for example of the Catholic abuse scandal - seeming almost harmless would violate the guidelines of a state-owned corporation committed to worldview neutrality."

Prohibited: The posters of the Secular Bus Campaign:

gbs spokesman Michael Schmidt-Salomon comments: "Obviously Deutsche Bahn AG is so far removed from the principle of worldview neutrality that the explicit advertisement for worldview neutrality already strikes them as a violation of neutrality. This farce only shows how important the objectives of the Secular Bus Campaign are. Remember: The Federal Constitutional Court clearly stated back in the 1960s that only a strictly worldview-neutral state can be a 'home' to all citizens. Apparently not only many responsible people in German politics, but also many authorities of the Deutsche Bahn AG do not grasp this up to this day".  

The whole incident strongly resembles the events 10 years ago when public transport companies in Germany refused to post the slogan of the International Bus Campaign "There is (with a probability bordering on certainty) no God". In 2009, the activists made a virtue out of necessity by chartering their own bus and driving it across Germany. Such a nationwide bus tour will also take place in 2019. Two of the prohibited posters will be displayed on the campaign bus. In addition there will be a "very special customer service" for the Berlin stations, as Schmidt-Salomon reveals: "PR cars displaying the large campaign posters will circle the Berlin stations in which our posters were banned by Deutsche Bahn at the beginning of May. We really will not let this get us down so easily!"

Allowed: Religious advertising in German railway stations and trains


#Schlussmachen jetzt! – The website of the Secular Bus Campaign:

The fundraiser for the bus campaign: