Indiana City Bus Faces Lawsuit For Blocking Pro-life Advertising

Posted: Jul 24, 2018 6:00 PM

It’s not uncommon to see advertisements flanking the sides of city buses. But one American city has decided that not all advertising is suitable for public transportation--though apparently only when it comes to unborn babies.

Now, the city is being sued over its apparent double-standard.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed the federal lawsuit Monday, on behalf of Tippecanoe County Right to Life, Inc. The defendant is named as Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corporation, otherwise known as CityBus. The corporation serves the areas of Lafayette and West Lafayette, Indiana.

The offending ad in question features three images of a baby at varying levels of development, along with accompanying text superimposed over the images. First, there’s an early ultrasound image of a small fetus (“ME”), then a color ultrasound image of a late-term baby ready to be born (“ME AGAIN”), and finally, a photo of a newborn infant (“STILL ME”.) Underneath the series of images is a banner listing the website for Tippecanoe Right to Life.

CityBus allegedly rejected the ad proposal on the grounds that it was not in compliance with their requirements, one of which is that ads may not express a “political viewpoint.”

However, it is worth noting that the government-run transportation system has permitted politically-charged advertisements in the past, relating to things like housing discrimination, a state healthcare crisis, and vaccinating children against STDs.

In discussing the lawsuit, ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot pointed to the city’s double-standard. “CityBus’s stated reason for denying this ad does not pass constitutional muster. The government cannot arbitrarily apply its policies to permit or exclude ads based on its viewpoint preferences.” He went on to add, “CityBus has a responsibility, like all other government entities, to ensure equal access to the advertising forums that it creates, and we hope that CityBus will quickly change course by permitting our client’s ad and revising its policies so that everyone can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.”

The problem here seems to lie with the city potentially violating the First Amendment rights of Tippecanoe Right to Life.

“An unborn baby’s humanity is a scientific fact, but even debatable ‘political viewpoints’ can’t be silenced by government officials whenever they dislike them,” said ADF Legal Counsel Samuel Green. “When the government creates an opportunity for advertising on countless topics, it cannot unreasonably single out life-affirming, educational messages for censorship. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all people, regardless of their beliefs.” 

Interestingly, this is not the first federal lawsuit in recent history to address advertising on a city bus. Back in June of 2016, Women’s Health Link--also a pro-life organization--was prohibited from purchasing an ad from Fort Wayne, Indiana’s bus system. ADF won the case.

As for the present lawsuit, Tippecanoe Right to Life is a non-profit organization. Founded in 1974, TCRTL has always “existed to protect the right to life, with a special focus on guaranteeing the right to life for unborn children.” The ad campaign they’d hoped to launch with CityBus was intended to educate the public about the “humanity” of the unborn, focused on routes serving low-income individuals who TCRTL believes are at greater risk of being targeted for abortions.