What Fresh Hell Is This?

November 30, 2013

What The Port Authority Doesn't Want You To See

In case you haven't been following it, here's the story from the AP:
A group that seeks to encourage people who don’t believe in God has sued Pittsburgh’s mass transit agency for refusing to run its ads on the side of buses.

A spokesman for the Port Authority of Allegheny County declined to comment on the federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Washington, D.C.-based United Coalition of Reason.

According to the lawsuit, the transit agency refused to post ads that read, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone” and included a website address of a local group the coalition supports.

The group said the transit agency’s refusal cited a broad policy banning “noncommercial” ads even though the authority has run other ads sponsored by religious and advocacy groups.

The transit agency lost a similar lawsuit after it refused a 2006 political ad by the Pittsburgh League of Young Voters. The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of the group and after losing in U.S. District Court and in the 3rd U.S. District Court of Appeals, the port authority eventually paid nearly $1,900 in damages plus more than $344,000 for the voting group’s legal fees.

The United Coalition of Reason contends its rights to free expression are similarly being violated. The lawsuit seeks to force the port authority to accept the ads and pay the group’s legal fees.
Here's the ACLU page of info for that League of Young Voters if you want to do some research.

From the decision of the appeal:
Unlike many of its sister states, Pennsylvania allows felons to vote immediately upon release from prison. In an effort to correct widespread belief to the contrary, a coalition of public-interest organizations set out to run an advertisement informing ex-prisoners that they have the right to vote and encouraging them to exercise it. The coalition asked the Port Authority of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania to place the ad in its buses. The Port Authority denied the request, pointing to its written advertising policy, which prohibits noncommercial ads. The coalition sued, alleging a violation of the First Amendment. The case proceeded to a bench trial, where the coalition proved that despite its written advertising policy, the Port Authority had accepted many noncommercial ads in recent years, several of which bore a striking resemblance to the coalition's ad. Based mainly on this "comparator" evidence, the District Court found that the rejection of the coalition's ad amounted to viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment. We will affirm.
From the UnitedCoR's press release we can read:
The Complaint seeks injunctive relief but at this point no motions have been filed. In the Complaint, UnitedCoR alleges that the Port Authority violated UnitedCoR's free speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. UnitedCoR asserts that the First Amendment prohibits the Port Authority, as a governmental entity, from using its disfavor of the nontheistic message of UnitedCoR's ads as a reason for refusing to run them on its buses. Such acts, the Complaint states, amount to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination against UnitedCoR's speech.
At this point, I haven't been able to get hold of a copy of The Complaint (if anyone has access to one, please feel free to email it in).

The ads would have directed bus riders to this page:
The Pittsburgh Coalition of Reason is a coalition of groups in greater Pittsburgh based on the principles of secularism, freethought, skepticism, and humanism. Our mission is:
  1. to build a supportive community for non-believers;
  2. to create positive change in the world by providing secular resources and opportunities for people to live out their Humanist values; and
  3. to raise public awareness that there are people everywhere who are good without God or religion.
At our gatherings you’ll find people who embrace and promote objectivity, reason, education, and critical thinking. Though many of us do not endorse supernatural beliefs, we absolutely do uphold the compassionate human values that people from all walks of life embrace. We are thoughtful and moral people who care deeply about our families, our communities, our country, and the world.
So basically, if you're already a non-believer in the Pittsburgh area, you're not alone.  And here are some groups that you might want to look at.  (Full disclosure: Last year, I gave a talk before the Center for Inquiry-Pittsburgh.  I didn't get paid or anything but I did get a nice dinner out of it.)

I can't really see how dangerous that message is, frankly.  But I'm not an attorney and I haven't seen the complaint yet so I'll just reiterate the message the Port Authority rejected:

1 comment:

SamStone said...

I see CoR has run similar ads in 35 states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

So Pittsburgh is not as enlightened as Idaho, Kansas, Utah, or West Virginia? Sad, but true (with apologies to ID, KS, UT and WV).