Washington, D.C.’s transit system is being sued over its refusal to feature ads for Milo Yiannopoulos, an abortion provider and PETA.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Wednesday announced the lawsuit, which asks the court to order the agency to accept and run the ads in its trains and stations and in and on its buses.
“This case highlights the consequences of the government’s attempt to suppress all controversial speech on public transit property,” Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU-DC and lead counsel in the case, said in a statement.
“The First Amendment protects the speech of everyone from discriminatory government censorship, whether you agree with the message or not,” he added.
Among the ads the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority refused to display was one from women’s healthcare collective Carafem that features a picture of a white pill along with the text “10-Week-After Pill” and “For abortion up to 10 weeks. $450. Fast. Private.”
The Metro also did not allow ads for PETA that featured a picture of a pig, along with the words “I’m ME, Not MEAT. See the Individual. Go Vegan.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the transit authority said, “In 2015, WMATA’s Board of Directors changed its advertising forum to a nonpublic forum and adopted commercial advertising guidelines that prohibit issue-oriented ads, including political, religious and advocacy ads.”
It added, “WMATA intends to vigorously defend its commercial advertising guidelines, which are reasonable and viewpoint neutral.”
The transit authority did initially approve the ads for Milo Yiannopoulos’s book Dangerous but withdrew them after passengers complained. The lawyers have also filed a motion for Milo Worldwide LLC that seeks immediate relief from the court for what it said was the ongoing loss of revenue from book sales as a result of the ads being taken down.
Lee Rowland, senior staff attorney with the ACLU, said the plaintiffs in the case “perfectly illustrate the indivisibility of the First Amendment.”
“In its zeal to avoid hosting offensive and hateful speech, the government has eliminated speech that makes us think, including the text of the First Amendment itself. The ACLU could not more strongly disagree with the values that Milo Yiannopoulos espouses, but we can’t allow the government to pick and choose which viewpoints are acceptable,” he added.