This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," November 12, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HEATHER NAUERT, HOST: The holidays fast approaching, and of course, controversy comes with it: Is it OK to say Merry Christmas or display manger scenes on public property, or sing Christmas carols in public schools?

Well, now one atheist group is putting a new spin on the war on Christmas, spending $40,000 for ads to run on Washington D.C. buses that feature Santa Claus asking "Why believe in a god? Just be good, for goodness' sake."

Jesse Galef is with the American Humanist Association, that's the group that launched the campaign. Also here is Bill Donohue. He's the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Welcome to you both.

? Video: Watch Heather Nauert's interview

Jesse, let me start with you. A chapter of your group over in the U.K. took out some similar ads saying — oh, shoot, let me find it here — saying why believe in God? He probably doesn't exist any anyway.


NAUERT: Yes. There's —

GALEF: So relax and enjoy your life — somewhere along those lines, yes.

NAUERT: Yes. So what's the point in doing this?

GALEF: This is mostly trying to reach out to fellows -people who are already inclined to not believe, people who are, you know, doubting, wondering, questioning, who know that they're usually maligned for not believing in God, told they are immoral, amoral. And we want them to know that there are people out there just like them that you can be good without believing in God.

And the message, I believe, you put (UNINTELLIGIBLE), "Be good for goodness sake." It's actually, "Be good for goodness' sake." There's an apostrophe there. Be good for goodness' sake. Don't be good because a god tells you. Be good just truly for the sake of being good.

NAUERT: OK. Ninety-two percent of Americans, according to a Pew poll, believe in God, so why throw their beliefs in their faces?

GALEF: I'm not sure how it throws their views back in their face. We're saying, "Look, you don't need to believe in God to be good." In fact, this something we can all agree on, that you can be good purely for the sake of helping other people because you care about them, because you care about the society in which we live.

NAUERT: OK. Bill Donohue, can we be good for the sake of being good?

BILL DONOHUE, PRESIDENT, THE CATHOLIC LEAGUE FOR RELIGIOUS AND CIVIL RIGHTS: Certainly, we can as individuals, not as societies. And quite frankly, there's an agenda here. They always choose Christians, don't they? If these guys had any guts they'd choose Ramadan and then explain it to the Muslims.

Quite frankly, we have had a rash of militant secularist activities through books, through movies. Last in Lansing, Michigan, gay terrorists stormed a church, a Christian church. Look, these guys are sticking their nose in where they don't belong. And this is a cheap way of trying to take a shot at Christmas. They don't have any guts. If they did, as I said, they would go after the Muslims.

GALEF: Don't belong? This is our society, too.

NAUERT: OK. What about that, Jesse?

GALEF: I think it's wrong to say these people are not putting where their nose where they don't belong. This is our society, too. We care about how we treat each other. We care about the perception. And we think it's very important that everybody in our society understands that even if you don't believe in God, you can be good.

And this is the message we're spreading. It is something that shouldn't be controversial, that I'm sure you agree with. But to say that we don't belong, you know, in society is wrong.

NAUERT: All right. You know, Bill, they have their first amendment rights. They've got to say what they want.

DONOHUE: Right. That's right. They shouldn't be profoundly ignorant, though. Sociology 101 says that morality has always been grounded in religion. They are trying to say, "No, it is grounded in individuals."

Well, Jeffrey Dahmer had a conscience, too, Heather. And you know what? He destroyed his victims and then ate them. We saw what happened with militant secularism in the 20th century. Over 150 million dead because of this man's philosophy — Pol Pot, Hitler, Mao and Stalin ...

GALEF: You know, you can't go back and forth.


DONOHUE: The only reason he has freedom of speech is because Christianity is the foundation of liberty in this country and western civilization. The Judeo-Christian ethos allows that this to be alive and not dead, as he would if he had voiced the same sentiments someplace else.

NAUERT: All right. Jesse, we have a few seconds left. We'll give you the last word.

GALEF: All right. It's important that you understand that, you know - it's important to put our society first, our fellowmen first, not necessarily put whatever God tells you to do first. Visit our Web site, find out more, www.WhyBelieveInaGod.org.

NAUERT: All right. I suspect that we will all be hearing a lot more about this in the months to come as Christmas is here. The decorations aren't even up yet, but we are already talking about Christmas.

Bill Donohue and Jesse Galef, thank you so much.

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