The ACLU sues WMATA for rejecting controversial ads

WASHINGTON, DC -- Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against WMATA for rejecting four controversial ads from running on Metro trains and buses, which the ACLU claims violates freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

“We’re not here trying to say there’s any particular view point that we think needs to be on Metro, what we’re trying to say is everybody’s view point has a right to be on Metro.”, said ACLU DC Legal Director, Arthur Spitzer.

One such as that had been rejected came from the ACLU itself.

“We wanted to post an ad that had the text of the First Amendment that protects freedom of speech in this country, in English and Spanish and Arabic to show that the First Amendment protects everybody’s freedom of speech.”, explained Spitzer.

Other ads that got the boot include one from Carafem, advertising a medical abortion pill, an ad promoting a book from internet provocateur, Milo Yiannopolos, and PETA, discouraging people from eating meat..

Spitzer argues, “At the same time, they’re running an ad for a restaurant that shows a delicious looking pork dish and the headline on the ad is ‘Porkadise Found’, which obviously sends the message that eating pork is a good thing. And yet they wouldn’t take the message to say, think about it, maybe eating pork is not so good,”

 In a statement, Metro said that WMATA’s Board of Directors changed its advertising policy in 2015 to a non-public forum and adopted commercial guidelines which prohibit issue-oriented ads, including political, religious, and advocacy ads.

 Some riders agree, that Metro has a right to run or not run whatever it wants.

 “Metro lets it be known, they’re not telling you that you can’t say something, they just won’t be the platform for you to do it. And, just like I have a right to say you can’t stand on my porch and say what you want, they have a right to say that we’re not going to allow controversial speech of any type.”, said Metro rider Bob Johnston.

 The ACLU has said that all four ad clients represent the indivisibility of the First Amendment.

The law suit seeks to force Metro to accept all four ads and render some of its advertising guidelines as unconstitutional.

To WMATA's credit, Spitzer said, “I don’t think they see themselves as attacking freedom of speech, I think they see themselves as just trying to avoid controversy, but it really comes down to the same thing, because where freedom of speech is valuable is where its about things that people disagree about.”

WMATA has said that it will vigorously defend its commercial advertising guidelines, which they call ‘reasonable and view-point neutral.’