Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Atheist Group Sues Pennsylvania Transit System Over Refusal To Accept Ad

The ACLU of Pennsylvania announced that it has filed suit on behalf of an atheist group against the County of Lacawana Transit System (COLTS) over its advertising policy. The complaint (full text) in Northeastern Pennsylvania Free Thought Society v. County of Lacawana Transit System, (MD PA, filed 4/28/2015) contends that COLTS rejected an ad submitted for the outside of its buses reading: "Atheists." COLTS advertising policy originally barred ads that are derogatory to any religion, or are objectionable, controversial or generally be offensive to COLTS’ ridership.  The policy was subsequently amended to bar ads that promote the existence or non-existence of a supreme deity; promote or criticize a religion or lack of religious belief; that quote or cite scriptures; or that are otherwise religious. COLTS policy was to maintain its advertising space as a nonpublic forum and not to allow its transit vehicles to become a platform for debate, or discussion of public issues or issues that are political or religious in nature.

The suit contends that COLTS has violated plaintiff's free expression rights by favoring commercial speech over speech on matters of public concern; and by in fact having a policy that accepted all ads until the Freethought Society attempted to advertise.  The complaint claims that COLTS policy is viewpoint based and unreasonable.