ACLU Sues Maryland Transit System for Banning Ads from PETA

August 17, 2021 1:30 pm

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BALTIMORE — The American Civil Liberties Union and Cockey, Brennan & Maloney, P.C. filed a First Amendment lawsuit and a preliminary injunction motion today on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) against the Tri-County Council for the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland and its public transit division, Shore Transit. The lawsuit challenges Shore Transit’s policy prohibiting advertisements that are “political,” “offensive,” “controversial,” “objectionable,” or “in poor taste.”

In May 2020, PETA submitted two proposed advertisements for placement on Shore Transit’s system urging the closure of slaughterhouses on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore. Shore Transit rejected PETA’s advertisements on the grounds that they were too “offensive” and “political” to run on Shore Transit’s system. Last month, PETA asked Shore Transit whether it would be willing to reconsider and run the proposed advertisements. Shore Transit never responded.

“Open-ended restrictions on ‘political’ or ‘offensive’ speech give government officials too much discretion and too little guidance,” said Brian Hauss, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “Access to public advertising spaces should not depend on the whims and prejudices of government censors.”

The ACLU’s preliminary injunction motion argues that Shore Transit’s policy violates the First Amendment because it is inherently vague, gives unrestricted discretion to enforcement officials to censor speech, and discriminates against disfavored viewpoints. The ACLU’s motion asks the court to temporarily block the advertising restrictions while the case is still pending and order Shore Transit to run PETA’s ads.

“In the land of free speech, Shore Transit can’t block appeals to end cruelty to animals based on whether its officials agree with that idea or not,” said PETA Foundation Director of Litigation Asher Smith. “PETA is pushing for the restoration of our First Amendment rights and the opportunity to encourage Shore Transit riders to save animals’ lives by going vegan.”

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland.

The complaint can be found here:

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