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ACLU sues WMATA over ad policy

WMATA's guidelines prohibit ads "intended to influence public policy," according to the ACLU.
Photo – WMATA/Larry Levine


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for the agency's restrictions on advertising in train stations, subway cars and buses.

WMATA's guidelines ban ads that are "intended to influence public policy," according to an ACLU press release. WMATA also prohibits ads that are "intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions."

The ACLU argues that the restrictions limit free speech. The lawsuit follows the rejection of ads from four groups across the political spectrum, including ads from alt-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos and abortion and birth-control provider Carafem.

WMATA also rejected a series of ACLU ads displaying the text of the First Amendment in English, Spanish and Arabic.

"The lawsuit asks the court to order the agency to accept and run the ads in its trains and stations and in and on its buses," ACLU officials said. "The lawsuit also asks the court to declare four sections of WMATA guidelines unconstitutional because they violate free speech rights, are arbitrarily enforced, and are unconstitutionally vague."

Although WMATA rejected ACLU's ads and others, the agency has accepted a variety of additional advertisements that convey viewpoints on controversial issues, the ACLU maintains.

For its part, the agency "intends to vigorously defend its commercial advertising guidelines, which are reasonable and view-point neutral," WMATA officials said in an email.

"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," WMATA officials said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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