By Joe Palazzolo
Does First Amendment protect our right to say what we want in advertisements on the side of a city bus?
Yes and no.
A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that a Michigan transit authority could bar from the side of its buses an advertisement that read: “Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got Questions? Get Answers! RefugefromIslam.com”
The group behind the ads is the the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which describes its mission as acting “against the treason being committed by national, state, and local government officials, the mainstream media, and others in their capitulation to the global jihad and Islamic supremacism.”
The group had sought in 2010 to place the ads on the buses in Michigan’s four southeastern-most counties, but the authority refused, on the grounds that the ads violated a policy against political advertisements and offensive speech.
AFDI sued, claiming First Amendment violations, and won. A federal district judge ruled in March 2011 that the ad policy gave inadequate guidance on what was permissible. The court noted, for instance, that the authority had allowed an atheist group to advertise on the buses.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said Thursday said that the side of the bus, in this case, wasn’t a public forum because the transit authority – Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, or SMART – rejected all political advertisements. The state never opened the space for discourse.
Once SMART established that the space on the buses was a nonpublic forum, it could ban political speech, as long as it did so in a “reasonable and viewpoint neutral” way. The Sixth Circuit held that it did. Read more.