The ACLU is suing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which controls the Washington, D.C. Metro system, for allegedly violating the First Amendment by prohibiting advertisements that are considered too controversial.
In a series of tweets on Wednesday, the ACLU announced it is suing the Washington, D.C. Metro on behalf of PETA, abortion provider Carafem, Milo Yiannopoulos’ publisher, and the ACLU itself.
According to the ACLU, the Washington D.C. Metro refused to display ads advertising Carafem, PETA, and the First Amendment. The advertisements for Yiannopoulos’ books were originally accepted, but were later removed due to complaints by riders.
The DC Metro rejected ads featuring the First Amendment in multiple languages, an abortion medication, and an encouragement to "go vegan."— ACLU National (@ACLU) August 9, 2017
Ads for Mr. Yiannopoulos’ new book, “Dangerous,” were first accepted, then removed from the transit system after riders complained.— ACLU National (@ACLU) August 9, 2017
The ACLU claims the actions by the Metro violate the First Amendment because it discriminates against advertisements that the system “deemed controversial by agency officials.”
In a statement on the lawsuit, the ACLU stressed that the parties represented in the lawsuit have nothing to do with each other politically, but that the First Amendment spans beyond supporting free speech for those with one particular viewpoint:
To put it mildly, these plaintiffs have nothing in common politically. But together, they powerfully illustrate the indivisibility of the First Amendment. Our free speech rights rise and fall together — whether left, right, pro-choice, anti-choice, vegan, carnivore, or none of the above.
In a subsequent set of tweets on the topic, the ACLU addressed people who were upset over their decision to represent Yiannopoulos. The ACLU defended their decision by explaining that if speech is deemed hate speech, saying, “The same laws used to silence bigots can be used to silence you.”
Lots of questions on this today:— ACLU National (@ACLU) August 9, 2017
“Hate speech” isn’t a legal term, but the law is clear— speech expressing hateful feelings is protected.
If the government gets to decide which speech is hate speech, the powers that be may later feel free to censor any speech they don’t like.— ACLU National (@ACLU) August 9, 2017
Restricting any group or individual's speech jeopardizes everyone’s rights. The same laws used to silence bigots can be used to silence you.— ACLU National (@ACLU) August 9, 2017
In a blog post addressing the topic further, James Esseks, the director of the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, condemned the language and beliefs held by Yiannopoulos. At the same time, however, he stated the principal of “free speech is crucial to progress in civil rights movements.”
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