In Victory for "Underground" Speech, NYC Transit Officials Back Down on Subway Advertisement Ban

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
March 17, 2000 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — In response to a lawsuit filed last week by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority today reversed itself and agreed to permit a controversial advertisement to run in the subways starting next month.

At issue is an advertisement featuring a photograph of a crowded subway car, with the headline, “With livestock it’s called animal cruelty. With people it’s called a morning commute.”

In a March 3 letter, the MTA stated it was rejecting the ad because its headline “is directly adverse to the commercial interests of the MTA, in that it is highly critical of the MTA’s performance and its current mass transit services.”

The MTA today informed the NYCLU and United States District Judge Allen Schwartz that it would permit the ad to run. The ad is being sponsored by the Regional Plan Association and the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, two groups that sought to place the ads in the subway system this April as part of a campaign to promote public support for increased capital spending for the subway system.

“This was censorship pure and simple,” said NYCLU Executive Director Norman Siegel. “The MTA has no power to censor the content of subway advertising just because they don’t like it.”

Christopher Dunn, an NYCLU Staff Attorney, added, “We have never understood why the MTA insisted on litigating this dispute. The advertisement clearly was intended to help the MTA get more funding, and the MTA’s rejection of the ad clearly violated the First Amendment.”

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