The ACLU sued the Washington, D.C. metro system Wednesday for banning the organization’s ads pertaining to free speech, as well as ads from conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, abortion and family planning group Carafem, and PETA.
The powerful law group argues that Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) advertising policies violate the 1st Amendment in a press release obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation. Rejected ads from the ACLU Yiannopoulos, Carafem, and PETA can be viewed here.
WMATA currently bans ads “intended to influence public policy,” “intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions,” and those that “support or oppose an industry position or industry goal without any direct commercial benefit to the advertiser.”
A few days after approving them in June and receiving complaints from riders, WMATA took down ads for Yiannopoulos’ new book “Dangerous.” The D.C. metro system banned Carafem’s ads for birth control pills, PETA’s ads for going vegan, and the ACLU’s ads portraying the 1st Amendment’s text outright.
ACLU is asking the court to compel WMATA to run the ads in its stations, trains, and buses, as well as label four sections of WMATA’s ad policies as unconstitutional. WMATA last amended its ad policies following controversy regarding anti-Muslim ads in 2015. Lawyers for the plaintiffs also want to obtain relief for Yiannopoulos and loss for revenue caused by the metro system’s removal of his ads.
“I’m joined in this lawsuit by fellow plaintiffs including pharmaceutical villains and vitamin-deficient vegans, but I’m no stranger to odd bedfellows,” said Yiannopoulos to TheDCNF. “Free speech isn’t about only supporting speech you agree with, it is about supporting all speech – especially the words of your enemies. Strong opponents keep us honest.”
“The citizens of Washington, D.C. have to worry about living in a corrupt swamp brimming with violent crime. They deserve to be protected from that — not from free speech in their public transportation system,” he said.
Alexander Macris, CEO of Yiannopoulos’ company MILO, Inc, said the group looked forward to WMATA revising their “arbitrary” policies.
“Our advertisements were apolitical and completely uncontroversial,” said Macris to TheDCNF. “We were advertising a book launch!”
“WMATA intends to vigorously defend its commercial advertising guidelines, which are reasonable and view-point neutral,” said Sherri Ly, the company’s media relations manager to TheDCNF, noting that WMATA barred “issue-oriented ads.”
Melissa Grant, chief operating officer of Carafem, noted that both the FDA and American Medical Association approved or accepted the abortion pill, proceeding to describe her organization as a “healthcare provider, not an advocacy group” to Business Wire.
“In its zeal to avoid hosting offensive and hateful speech, the government has eliminated speech that makes us think, including the text of the First Amendment itself,” said Lee Rowland, ACLU’s senior staff attorney. “The ACLU could not more strongly disagree with the values that Milo Yiannopoulos espouses, but we can’t allow the government to pick and choose which viewpoints are acceptable.”
TheDCNF reached out to WMATA, Carafem, PETA, and the ACLU for comment or further rationale, but received none in time for publication.
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