ACLU Sues Rhode Island Airport Officials for Censoring Political Advertising of Corrections Officers' Group

November 13, 2001 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE, RI –The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today filed a federal lawsuit against officials at T.F. Green Airport for censoring a political advertisement that a correctional officers group sought to install there earlier this year.

“”In one act of censorship, airport officials have insulted the intelligence of the traveling public and suppressed the protections of the First Amendment,”” said ACLU volunteer attorney Lynette Labinger.

Earlier this year, the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers (RIBCO) began an advertising campaign that contained a photograph of an obscured individual behind bars with the caption, “”Meet Your New Next-Door Neighbor;”” RIBCO’s logo, and the message, “”Stop Community Corrections before it starts.”” Community Corrections is a state-sponsored program that the group opposes.

Although the advertisement had already appeared on billboards around the state, airport officials rejected the ad for placement within T. F. Green Airport on the grounds that it was “”negative”” and “”political.”” In its place, airport officials have allowed a revised version of the advertisement, which omits the photo and caption. That advertisement has been running since May.

“”By allowing RIBCO to proclaim that it opposes community corrections, yet censoring the explanation as to why, airport officials have made clear that they do not oppose political advertisements — only those that might make their point effectively,”” said Labinger.

Both RIBCO and Trainor Communications, the advertising agency that prepared the original advertisement, claim that by altering the ad so that it states the opposition to community corrections without conveying the reason, officials have stripped the advertisement of its punch and meaning.

The ACLU further argues in the lawsuit that the absence of “”clear, specific, and narrowly drawn standards”” to guide officials in determining what advertisements may be displayed, also amounts to unconstitutional censorship.

The ACLU is seeking a court order requiring the airport to display the original advertisement, barring further use of any policy which permits restrictions based on an advertisement’s viewpoint, and awarding damages.

Labinger and Christopher Corbett, both volunteer ACLU attorneys, filed the lawsuit

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