Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Monday against CityBus, a government-run public transportation company servicing the Lafayette area, for refusing to accept a bus advertisement educating the public about the humanity of unborn children. CityBus denied Tippecanoe County Right to Life’s ad because it determined that the ad expressed a “political viewpoint” in violation of its advertising policy.
“An unborn baby’s humanity is a scientific fact, but even debatable ‘political viewpoints’ can’t be silenced by government officials whenever they dislike them,” said ADF Legal Counsel Samuel Green. “When the government creates an opportunity for advertising on countless topics, it cannot unreasonably single out life-affirming, educational messages for censorship. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all people, regardless of their beliefs.”
Tippecanoe County Right to Life is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the right to life and educating the public about the scientific truth about the humanity of unborn children. Last September, Tippecanoe County Right to Life contacted CityBus to begin a conversation about advertising on buses, believing that they could educate numerous people—including some who may face unplanned pregnancies and consider abortion—in this way. Tippecanoe County Right to Life submitted an ad design that includes its name, its website, two ultrasound images of an unborn child, and a third picture depicting a newborn wrapped in a blanket. The words “ME,” “ME, AGAIN,” and “STILL ME” are superimposed over the pictures.
CityBus denied the ad, arguing that the proposed design did not comply with its guidelines which prohibit, among other things, certain ads expressing a “political viewpoint.” However, CityBus has permitted ads declaring a “healthcare crisis in Indiana,” encouraging people to “pump some democracy,” promoting the filing of housing-discrimination complaints, and advocating for vaccinating children against a sexually transmitted disease.
The complaint filed in Tippecanoe County Right to Life v. Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corporation with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana explains that CityBus’s advertising “policies and practices that prohibit protected speech, use vague terms, and grant unbridled discretion to CityBus’s officials to ban protected speech based on the viewpoint expressed” violate Tippecanoe County Right to Life’s “fundamental rights, including [its] right to freedom of speech.”
“CityBus’s stated reason for denying this ad does not pass constitutional muster. The government cannot arbitrarily apply its policies to permit or exclude ads based on its viewpoint preferences,” added ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “CityBus has a responsibility, like all other government entities, to ensure equal access to the advertising forums that it creates, and we hope that CityBus will quickly change course by permitting our client’s ad and revising its policies so that everyone can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.”
In June 2016, ADF won a similar case at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. In Women’s Health Link v. Fort Wayne Public Transportation Corporation, the 7th Circuit ruled that the bus system of Fort Wayne, Indiana, had unconstitutionally refused to accept an ad from Women’s Health Link, a life-affirming health care referral service for women in need.
Thomas M. Dixon, of Dixon, Wright & Associates, P.C., one of more than 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local co-counsel on behalf of Tippecanoe County Right to Life.