When the First Amendment Applies

Since there is some confusion about what free speech actually means, I gave an example of what doesn’t constitute a violate of free speech. Today I will give an example of what does count as a violation of free speech:

Can the government ban the text of the First Amendment itself on municipal transit ads because free speech is too “political” for public display?

If this sounds like some ridiculous brain teaser, it should. But unfortunately it’s not. It’s a core claim in a lawsuit we filed today challenging the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) restrictions on controversial advertising.

The ACLU, ACLU of D.C., and ACLU of Virginia are teaming up to represent a diverse group of plaintiffs whose ads were all branded as too hot for transit: the ACLU itself; Carafem, a health care network that specializes in getting women 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.

WMATA is a government agency, which means its decisions to allow or prohibit certain forms of speech constitute government censorship and therefore fall under the First Amendment.

This case brings up something I’ve often wondered about. Public transport in the Twin Cities is operated by Metro Transit, which is part of the Metropolitan Council government organization. Metro Transit’s buses and trains are plastered with advertisements. If Metro Transit rejects a proposed advertisement, does that qualify as a violation of the First Amendment. I believe it does but I’ve been curious what the courts would say (not because I think the decisions of courts are meaningful but because I have a morbid curiosity).