• Court Busts Bus Line Ban on Religious Ads

    A federal appeals court ruled that a local transit authority in Pennsylvania cannot exclude ads that refer to religion because that violates the First Amendment.

    The County of Lackawanna Transit System’s policy to ban “speech related to religion discriminates based on the basis of viewpoint,” said the US Third Circuit Court of Appeals on September 17. The three-judge panel split 2-1 in favor of the would-be advertiser, a group of atheists, agnostics, and skeptics.

    You can read their ruling here.

    The transit system had rejected this proposed ad to avoid controversy:

    The transit authority argued that heated debate could deter ridership and escalate to the point of distracting drivers, endangering passengers, and reducing revenue.

    The appeals court didn’t buy that claim, invoking free speech as an overriding interest.

    Conflicts Among the Courts

    Attempts to restrict transit advertising have been litigated in multiple jurisdictions, with mixed outcomes. The federal appellate circuits are divided on this matter.

    The federal appeals court for Washington, DC, upheld the regional transit agency’s refusal to accept a Christmas-themed ad from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. The ruling was issued July 31, 2018.

    The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) stopped taking issue-oriented and religious-political messages in 2015 due to security concerns.

    The US Supreme Court get far more cases than it can hear.  One reason for accepting cases at the Supreme Court is division among the lower courts.


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