PHILADELPHIA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, together with the American Civil Liberties Union and volunteer attorneys from the law firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, announced today that they have filed an appeal on behalf of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society in a federal lawsuit challenging the censorship of advertisements on County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) vehicles. The appeal was filed with the federal Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, based in Philadelphia.
On July 9, a federal district court in Scranton ruled against the NEPA Freethought Society in its effort to post advertising on vehicles operated by COLTS. Ads proposed by the NEPA Freethought Society, which included the word “Atheists.” and the group’s website address, were rejected by the transit agency. The agency cited its policy prohibiting advertising about religion or atheism or other speech that it deems “controversial” or believes may create public debate.
The following can be attributed to Molly Tack-Hooper, staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania:
“The trial court’s ruling in this case does not diminish our belief that COLTS is suppressing our clients’ right to free speech. As a government agency, COLTS is significantly limited in its ability to censor speech. It can’t censor speech in order to keep people from debating important public issues, which is exactly what COLTS has tried to do here.
“The whole purpose of our constitutional protection for free speech is to safeguard public debate from government interference.”
The NEPA Freethought Society is represented on appeal by Molly Tack-Hooper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Benjamin Wanger of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, and Brian Hauss of the American Civil Liberties Union. More information about the case is available at aclupa.org/COLTS.