Monday, August 14, 2006

The First Amendment is now strictly commercial...

We're in the middle of an inane battle with the Port Authority bus system right now in Pittsburgh.

For almost nine months, we have been trying to nicely convince the Port Authority to run an educational advertisement that explains the voting rights of ex-offenders in PA. Being nice didn't work, and we finally filed suit against them last Thursday.

Pennsylvania law changed in 2000 to allow ex-felons to vote, even if they are on probation or parole. The information has been slow to disseminate, though, and many ex-offenders mistakenly think they do not have the right to vote.

So the ACLU partnered up with the League of Young Voters (Education Fund) to try and run a few ads on bus routes in areas with high concentrations of ex-offenders. We received some grant money to cover the cost advertising, and were ready to roll.

BUT the Port Authority repeatedly refused to run our ads, claiming that they only accept commercial advertising (questionable on First Amendment grounds anyway). Even beyond that, anyone who rides the bus in Pittsburgh knows their claim is not really true, and you can check out some supposedly 'commercial' ads run by the Port Authority here.

It looks like this has dragged on long enough that we will not be able to run the ad prior to the November elections, even if we win. Personally, I could think of better things to do with taxpayers' money than fight running an educational, non-partisan ad, can't you?

More on the case here.

Lisa in Pittsburgh


Anonymous Atheism Quotes said...

Wow. The pictures of the other ads pretty much nail them for being big fat liars, don't they?

How sad.

5:02 PM  
Anonymous The Mad Scotsman said...

I hope youse guys win, but I don't think it's as cut and dried as you make out.

One of their explicit prohibitions is political advertising. Given that there's an election coming up in November, one could argue that any attempt to influence who votes for whom is a political ad. An argument could be made that of all the examples of non-commercial ads you show, non are as overtly political as to mention voting.

But how can it be political to exhort people to vote?

If Rick (frothy lube) Santorum sponsored an ad that said "RICK SANTORUM says to register to vote", should that be allowed? Or if Dick Cheney sponsored an ad saying "The threats to National Security are very real - do your part to keep America safe - sponsored by DICK CHENEY"? Hopefully not, but it begs the question, what's the difference?

The ACLU would argue that, unlike Mr Santorum, it's not a political organization and certainly doesn't have a political agenda. Mr Santorum's constituency might argue that the ACL is a bunch of tree hugging terrorist loving America hating Lefties and is only masquerading as a non-political entity.

It gets kinda grey at a detailed level. But like I said, I hope y'all win.

Cheers, Neil.

5:24 PM  
Blogger ACLU of Pennsylvania said...

I'm not a lawyer, but I don't think it is clear that they could prohibit expressly political ads either, even if that were the case.

And the ACLU would certainly support the right for Santorum or Cheney to run the ads that you suggest.

In any event, I hope we win too. Postt-Gazette had a supportive editorial today about it:

7:54 PM  
Anonymous The Mad Scotsman said...

Thank you for pointing out the moral high ground. Mea culpa.

1:36 PM  
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