D.C. Metro’s financial woes don’t seem to be ending anytime soon.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced Wednesday morning that they are suing the D.C. Metro Transit Authority for refusing to display ads they deemed too controversial, including signs promoting Milo Yiannopoulos’s new book and the First Amendment.
The ACLU is suing on behalf of themselves, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Milo Yiannopoulos’s publisher, Milo Worldwide LLC, and Carafem, an abortion and birth control provider, arguing that the government agencies’ advertising policies violate the First Amendment rights of advertisers.
“WMATA intends to vigorously defend its commercial advertising guidelines, which are reasonable and view-point neutral,” Sherri Ly, Manager of Media Relations for WMATA, wrote in an email to Independent Journal Review.
The advertisements featured the First Amendment in English, Spanish, and Arabic, an abortion medication pill, Yiannopoulos’s new book, “Dangerous,” and PETA’s “Go Vegan” campaign. The rejected ads can be viewed here.
“The First Amendment protects everybody and if it doesn’t protect you, then sooner or later it’s not going to protect me either,” Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU-DC and lead counsel in the case told IJR, noting the broad range of ideologies represented in the case.
Metro’s advertising guidelines were amended in 2015 after controversial anti-Muslim advertisements purchased by Pamela Geller of American Freedom Defense Initiative, caused backlash from riders.
“In 2015, WMATA’s Board of Directors changed its advertising forum to a nonpublic forum and adopted commercial advertising guidelines that prohibit issue-oriented ads, including political, religious and advocacy ads,” Ly explained in an email.
The guidelines include language that prohibits advertisements that:
- “support or oppose any political party or candidate”
- “are intended to influence public policy”
- “promote or oppose any religion, religious practice or belief”
- “are intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions”
“There is really no end to the censorship that will go on under these kinds of vague and arbitrary rules,” Spitzer told IJR. “Every ad has a viewpoint and Metro is discriminating in favor of some and against others that’s not something the First Amendment should allow.”
The ads promoting Yiannopoulos’s book featuring his face and the caption “the most hated man on the internet,” were originally approved by D.C. Metro, but were later removed after complaints from customers.
“We didn’t have anything to say about issues or policy, unless you consider my face to be a political statement. So I have a simple question for the D.C. Metro. Which advertisements do not break those policies? Is my face a hate crime?” Yiannopoulos wrote in an email to the Washingtonian.
Carafem, whose advertisements for a ten-week-after abortion pill were denied in December 2016 for being “issue-oriented,” argued that the pill is FDA-approved and accepted by the American Medical Association, following the Metro’s guidelines regarding medical advertisements.
“The diversity of the plaintiffs in this case further underscores our concern for protecting freedom of speech for everyone,” Melissa Grant, Chief Operations Officer at Carafem said in a press release Wednesday morning.
“In joining together to expose the censorship of the D.C. Metro, we are supporting the right for all Americans to share in open dialog, as promised by the Constitution.”