Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

ABC refused to air FFRF JFK ad during debate

Vol. 36 No. 08 October 2019
Images from the Reagan ad and JFK ad.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Two TV commercials produced by FFRF were rejected by ABC during the Democratic debate in Houston on Sept. 12.

FFRF first tried to purchase time from ABC to run its iconic TV spot featuring Ron Reagan endorsing FFRF and describing himself as “an unabashed atheist . . . not afraid of burning in hell.” Major networks have refused to run the 30-second spot since it was produced in 2014, including ABC, NBC, CBS and even Science Discovery. (MSNBC, Comedy Central and CNN have run the ad, and it aired for two weeks in September on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.”)

“Every year we ask the major networks to reconsider and run our commercial,” explains FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We were disappointed, but not surprised, when ABC once again refused to run the Reagan endorsement spot.”

But, Gaylor says, she was shocked that ABC next rejected a commercial largely featuring a video excerpt of a famous speech by John F. Kennedy. As a presidential candidate, JFK gave a talk to a gathering of Protestant ministers in Houston in 1960, intending to allay their fears that as a Catholic he would be beholden to the Vatican rather than to the Constitution.

In his strong remarks in favor of secular government, JFK said: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” FFRF’s commercial leads with footage from his speech, then states: “Let’s restore respect for America’s secular roots. Help the Freedom From Religion Foundation defend the wall of separation between state and church. Join us at ffrf.org. Freedom depends on freethinkers.”

The ad concludes with the strains of “Let freedom ring,” as FFRF’s emblematic image appears of a Lincoln penny with the words “In Reason We Trust” instead of “In God We Trust.”

FFRF produced this commercial, which first aired on “CBS This Morning” and the “Monday CBS Evening News” in 2012, in response to a remark by then-presidential candidate Rick Santorum, after he said JFK’s remark “makes me want to throw up.”

Ironically, FFRF had no trouble placing the JFK spot nationally on “ABC World News Tonight” on Sept. 24, 2016, to protest Pope Francis’ joint address to Congress.

Gaylor says the American public has no idea how much censorship nonbelievers encounter in seeking to disseminate their views. Print ads have been rejected by daily newspapers, including recently by the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times. FFRF’s billboards can’t “play in Peoria” and many other cities around the nation.

But Gaylor says that the blackout by national networks is the most egregious. FFRF contends it is essential for freethinking voices to be heard in order for the United States to retain its secular republic.

Ad to be in October debate

As of press-time, FFRF has secured placement of its 30-second spot recorded by Ron Reagan to run during the October Democratic debates airing on CNN. It was still undecided whether the debate will air over a two-day period on Tuesday, Oct. 15 and Wednesday, Oct. 16. If the debates take place over two days, FFRF’s ad will air once on both days. If it’s a one-day debate, the ad will air twice. The ad will also air once during the pre-debate CNN show and once in post-debate coverage.

FFRF’s ad will also appear once per show on Wednesday, Oct. 16, during CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper,” “The Situation Room” and Anderson Cooper. Ads airing during the debates are highly analyzed over social media, Gaylor noted. She is hopeful that CNN will not change its mind.