PHILADELPHIA - The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Pennsylvania and the NAACP today filed a lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia charging that its refusal to allow an advertisement promoting criminal justice reform to appear at the Philadelphia International Airport violates the First Amendment. The ad highlights America's high incarceration rate.
The city claimed that the ad had been rejected because it does not accept "issue" or "advocacy" advertisements at the airport. However, the airport has accepted numerous other ads relating to political and social issues. The lawsuit is also against Clear Channel Outdoor, which handles advertising for Philadelphia's airport, because the company acts on behalf of the city.
"The government cannot pick and choose which speech it deems acceptable and which it does not," said Chris Hansen, senior staff attorney for the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. "The fact that the airport accepted some political issue ads but not the NAACP's shows the arbitrary nature of the city's unwritten and undefined policy. It is a clear violation of the First Amendment's prohibition against the government favoring some speakers over others. "
The NAACP's rejected advertising says, "Welcome to America, home to 5% of the world's people & 25% of the world's prisoners. Let's build a better America together." The ads are part of a public awareness campaign surrounding the NAACP's "Misplaced Priorities" report, which explores the connection between high incarceration rates and poorly performing schools.
"The walls of Philadelphia International Airport are public space, and city officials do not have the right to suppress any group's viewpoint based on their own beliefs or political considerations," stated NAACP General Counsel Kim Keenan. "Our First Amendment right to free speech is just as strong as that of the U.S.O., the World Wildlife Federation or any other advocacy group that has graced the walls of the airport," Keenan said, referring to ads from other organizations that the city accepted.