• A Difficult Balance: Free Speech vs Limits on Transit Ads

    A three-judge panel heard arguments in a free speech challenge to Washington, DCs’ ban on issue-oriented ads in its transit system.

    The Archdiocese of Washington sued the Metro system after it rejected a 2017 Christmas-themed campaign that would link to a website encouraging donations to a Catholic charity and church attendance.


                                             Ad rejected by Washington’s transit system


    This lawsuit is closely watched because the outcome could affect other transit-advertising agreements.

    In 2015, Washington’s regional transit system banned issue-oriented messages, as well as ads related to politics or religion. The ban was prompted by security concerns over anti-Muslim-themed ads.

    The First Amendment challenge is pending in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which hear oral arguments on March 26.  Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh described Metro’s policy as “pure discrimination” that violates the First Amendment.

    Top legal talent is involved in this case.  Paul Clement represents the archdiocese, Donald Verrilli Jr. represents Metro.  Both are former US solicitor generals.

    Metro argued that if it accepted the archdiocese’s ads, it would be forced to display divisive messages criticizing Islam, Judaism, and Catholic bishops.

    The US Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is supporting the archdiocese, arguing that Metro’s policy discriminates against religious organizations.



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