Democracy Has Prevailed.

December 2, 2013

Coalition of Reason Complaint Update.

The story's hit the P-G oped page:
The Port Authority has declined comment on the case, but the plaintiff said the transit system’s attorney indicated the agency doesn’t allow “non-commercial” advertising. The United Coalition, however, said the Port Authority runs assorted noncommercial ads, some from religious groups.

With this decision, the transit system appears to be siding with church-goers and against nontheists, whereas its stance should be neutral, as long as the message is not distasteful.

The Port Authority is not only rejecting legitimate ad revenue but also risking losses in court, as it did when it had to pay more than $345,000 following the rejection of a 2006 political ad from the Pittsburgh League of Young Voters. In heaven’s name, the agency needs a more realistic ad policy.
We already talked about the League of Young Voters case here.

An astute reader sent in a copy of the complaint and from it we can see that it looks like they're arguing not about religious freedom but something else:
The Plaintiff seeks injunctive and declaratory relief under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against Defendant for refusing to contract with Plaintiff to lease advertising space to Plaintiff on the Authority’s buses due to the viewpoint expressed in the proposed advertisements in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
In an email rejecting the ads, the Port Authority cited it's Advertising Policy.  A copy of it is included as part of the complaint.  It reads:
It shall be the policy of Port Authority of Allegheny County to accept commercial advertising for posting in and on Port Authority vehicles and other property owned or controlled by Port Authority , of its sole choosing , with the objective of maximizing revenue while maintaining standards of decency and good taste without infringing on First Amendment rights of Prospective Advertisers. Accordingly , Port Authority will not accept advertisements that are obscene , unlawful, misleading , libelous, or fraudulent. Further, Port Authority will not accept advertisements that are non-commercial; that appeal to prurient interests, that are or may be offensive to riders; that glamorize or otherwise promote violence , sexual conduct, alcohol, or tobacco use; that a re political in nature or contain political messages; or that are reasonably deter mined not to be in good taste. This policy is intended to be an objective and enforceable standard for advertising that is consistently applied. I t is also Port Authority ’s declared intent not to allow any of its Transit Vehicles or Property to become a public for um for dissemination, debate or discussion of public issues.
It should be noted that this is the advertising policy in place at the time of the negotiations to get the ads on the buses.  Of course, they've since been changed.  In 2012 "in light of recent litigation and other considerations" this policy was amended so that ads that:
...promote the existence or non-existence of a supreme deity, deities, being or beings; that address or promote a specific religion, religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs; that directly quote or cite to scriptures, religious texts or texts involving religious beliefs, or lack of religious beliefs; or are otherwise religious in nature.
are not acceptable.

It should be noted that this policy was adopted after the CoR's ads were rejected but before the CoR's complaint was filed.

Ladies and gentlemen in my humble non-attorney opinion (as I am not in anyway an attorney - thank Jebus) this is what's known as moving the goal posts.

And now it's up to a judge to decide whether it's appropriate.

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