Nel's New Day

August 9, 2017

Washington Subway Bans Constitution

Should a government entity be required to obey the U.S. Constitution? That’s the question raised by the ACLU after the tax-supported Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) refused its paid ad that quoted the First Amendment. WMATA claims that it restricts “controversial” advertising and turned down ads from Carafem, a healthcare network that provides access to birth control and medication abortion; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); and Milo Worldwide LLC, the corporate entity of provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.

To communicate support for Muslims (freedom of religion) and the media (freedom of the press), ACLU put up ads in Arabic, English, and Spanish that simply cited the First Amendment.

WMATA refused the ACLU because of its policy forbidding advertisements “intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions” or “intended to influence public policy.” The tax-aid transit accepts beer (no problem with alcoholism), mink coats, Coke-or-Pepsi jokes, etc.—no “varying opinions” there. The PETA ad showed a pig with the text, “I’m ME, Not MEAT. See the individual. Go Vegan.” WMATA has several ads asking their riders to eat animal-based food, wear clothing from animals parts, and attend circus performances. It did suggest that they might run the PETA ad with the removal of “Go Vegan.” To ACLU, WMATA stated, “You’ll have to dramatically change your creative.”

Ads for Milo Worldwide LLC were initially accepted. The author of Dangerous brands feminism a cancer, proposes that transgender people have psychological problems, and compares Black Lives activists to KKK. His ads showed Milo Yiannopoulos’ face, a suggestions that his new book be ordered, and one of four quotations from his reviews: “The most hated man on the Internet” (Nation); “The ultimate troll” (Fusion); “The Kanye West of Journalism” (Red Alert Politics); and “Internet Supervillain” (Out Magazine). In contrast to his writings and speeches, the ads didn’t appear to influence except for selling the book. The ads stayed for 10 days until WMATA got complaints.

These ads—including the First Amendment—were considered “controversial,” but those from gambling casinos, military contractors, and internet sex apps weren’t. PETA was rejected, but a restaurant dish “PORKADISE FOUND” was advertised. The same for a rejection of Yiannopoulos’ book while advertising movie ads of four women drooling over a male stripper.

ACLU’s lawsuit requests that the court declare parts of WMATA’s advertising guidelines unconstitutional because they violate free speech rights and are unconstitutionally vague. Although disagreeing with Yiannopoulos’ viewpoints, the organization also filed a motion on behalf of Milo Worldwide LLC for restitution of loss of revenue by the wrongful removal of advertisements for his book.

Arthur Spitzer, the legal director for the ACLU in Washington, stated:

 “The First Amendment protects the speech of everyone from discriminatory government censorship, whether you agree with the message or not.

For the better part of a century, the Supreme Court has wobbled back and forth on the exemption of “commercial speech” from the First Amendment. But to prevent the First Amendment as an advertisement? This is not freedom of speech!

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