AFDI sought to run an advertisement that was nearly identical to a U.S. State Department advertisement. Source: American Freedom Law Center.

In a case that has been percolating for more than five years and which we reported on last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court

The advertisement that the Freethought Society wished to place on Lackawanna County buses. Source: ACLU of Pennsylvania.

In a decision last month, an atheist group lost its challenge to an advertising policy promulgated by the transit system for Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, COLTS, that prohibited, among other things, religious messages.  Following a trial, a federal district court found in favor of the transit agency, on the grounds that its advertising space was a limited public forum and the policy was viewpoint neutral.  The decision follows several recent decisions that have found transit advertising policies constitutional.

Beginning in 2012, the atheist group, the Freethought Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania, sought to place advertising on buses owned by COLTS.  The Society’s initial advertising attempt was blocked by COLTS on the ground that its advertisement was controversial, in violation of the agency’s advertising policy.  The transit agency rejected similar advertisements submitted in 2013 and 2014 as well, even after COLTS changed its advertising policy to more explicitly prohibit political or religious messages.
Continue Reading

Last December, we reported on a federal district court’s denial of a motion for preliminary injunction relating to the Archdiocese of Washington’s unsuccessful efforts to post Christmas-season advertising on transit vehicles owned and operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.  Unfortunately for the Archdiocese, Christmas did not come in July either.  Last week, the federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed the denial of preliminary injunctive relief.

The facts of the case are available on our post regarding the district court’s decision.

On appeal, the appellate court (which included as a panelist Supreme Court nominee Judge Kavanaugh) agreed with the district court.  First, the court agreed that the advertising space on WMATA transit vehicles constitutes a non-public forum, where the government can exercise greater control over content yet must adhere to requirements of viewpoint neutrality and reasonableness.  In so ruling, the D.C. Circuit joins a majority of federal appeals courts that have now ruled that transit advertising spaces are non-public fora.
Continue Reading

A copy of one of the advertisements that the Archdiocese of Washington intended to place on WMATA buses. Source: Archdiocese of Washington.

The Catholic Church’s efforts to “Keep Christ in Christmas” have been stymied by a District of Columbia judge this holiday season.  Earlier this month, the federal district court in Washington rejected a request by the Archdiocese of Washington to enjoin the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority’s enforcement of its transit advertising policy.  The Archdiocese wished to display, during the holiday season, an advertisement on WMATA transit vehicles that contained the language “Find the Perfect Gift” and a religious image.  The advertisement was intended to encourage readers to remember the religious underpinnings of Christmas.  WMATA rejected the advertisement because it violated the authority’s rule prohibiting advertising that advocates or opposes religion.
Continue Reading

Does the First Amendment require a public transit system to run an ad alerting riders to the “Faces of Global Terrorism”?  No, concluded a federal district court last month.  The case, which remains on appeal, comprises the latest salvo in a years-long battle between the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), a nonprofit specializing in creating and litigating advertisements decrying the “Islamization of America,” and King County Metro Transit (Metro), the Seattle area’s mass transportation system.

After AFDI submitted what Metro rejected as a false and misleading advertisement, and the Ninth Circuit refused to overturn a district court order denying AFDI’s request for a preliminary injunction, AFDI returned with a new version of its ad.  That latest iteration
Continue Reading

A Spokane Transit Authority bus. Source: Spokane Public Radio.

The union representing Spokane Transit Authority employees will have an opportunity to continue its challenge to the STA’s bus advertising policy, now that a federal court has denied the transit authority’s motion to dismiss.

Like many transit agencies, the STA has an advertising policy.  Until November 2016, the STA delegated administration and enforcement of the policy to an advertising contractor called ooh Media LLC.  The policy allows “Commercial and Promotional Advertising” and “Public Service Announcements.”  Commercial and promotional advertising includes general commercial advertisements for products, services, events, and the like.  Public service announcements are required to meet three criteria: the sponsor must be a governmental or 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity, the announcement must relate to one of five topics (including public health, safety or personal well-being, family or child social services, broad-based contribution campaigns, or services for low-income people or persons with disabilities), and the announcement may not include a commercial message.  The policy also prohibits deceptive advertising, political speech, or ideological or religious messages.
Continue Reading

Above, an advertisement that Women’s Health Link wished to place on the side of Citilink buses in Fort Wayne. Source: Alliance Defending Freedom.

In a case that we reported on earlier this year, last month, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an Indiana district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Fort Wayne public transit system, Citilink, holding that the transit company’s rejection of an advertisement for a healthcare organization was unreasonable in light of Citilink’s advertising policy.
Continue Reading

A women’s health counseling service was denied in its efforts to advertise on buses operated by the Fort Wayne, Indiana public bus system.  The bus system’s advertising policy prohibited noncommercial advertising of any nature but allows the display of public service announcements.  The federal district court found that the bus advertising space constituted a nonpublic