The ACLU Is Suing Washington D.C. Transit for Rejecting Political Ads

On Wednesday the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that it will be suing Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for rejecting and removing ads in what they view as a violation of the First Amendment, USA Today reports. The irony? One of the rejected ads, paid for by the ACLU, was literally a copy of the First Amendment.

The banned advertisements included one showing the Prophet Muhammad from the AFDI, and another supporting access to an abortion pill from Carafem, USA Today reports. In addition, PETA’s advertisement featuring a pig, along with the text “I’m ME, Not MEAT. See the Individual. Go Vegan,” was banned, along with the ALCU’s featuring the text of the First Amendment in English, Spanish and Arabic. Milo Yiannopolous’ advertisement for his new book was also removed after riders complained.

“To put it mildly, these plaintiffs have nothing in common politically. But together, they powerfully illustrate the indivisibility of the First Amendment. Our free speech rights rise and fall together—whether left, right, pro-choice, anti-choice, vegan, carnivore, or none of the above,” the ACLU said in a statement

According to The Los Angeles Times, a policy adopted in 2015 by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority places a ban on advertisements that are “intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions” or “intended to influence public policy.” The ACLU argues that this policy is too vague and could lead WMATA to arbitrarily reject advertisements on a case-by-case basis, the Times reports. They also argue that the ideas presented in the four banned advertisements might cause outrage with some individuals, but this could be said of any advertisement.

Milo Yiannopoulos told the Los Angeles Times via text message that he was “glad that the ACLU has decided to tackle [this] real civil rights issue.” He added, “Free speech isn’t about only support speech you agree with, it is about supporting all speech—especially the words of your enemies. Strong opponents keep us honest.” 

It seems as if the ACLU will indeed have a strong opponent in this lawsuit. “WMATA intends to vigorously defend its commercial advertising guidelines, which are reasonable and view-point neutral,” Sherri Ly, a spokesperson for the transit system, said of the advertisement policy, according to USA Today.

"At the end of the day, it’s a real shame that the WMATA didn’t accept the ACLU’s advertisement—the agency could really have used that refresher on the First Amendment," the ACLU said in their statement.