The ACLU of North Carolina issued a new statement today about Chapel Hill’s controversial censorship of bus advertisements:
ACLU: Chapel Hill Can’t Use Unenforced Policy to Ban Controversial Ad: Constitutional Law Group Says that Using an Unenforced Policy to Ban Controversial Ad Would Constitute Viewpoint Discrimination
RALEIGH – The recent discovery of an approved bus advertising policy that was never put into effect does not give Chapel Hill officials the constitutional authority to ban a controversial advertisement appearing on city buses, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF).
Chapel Hill Transit Director Steve Spade recently informed Town officials that they have been consistently using a “draft” policy for transit advertising and not the “final” policy approved by the Chapel Hill Town Council in June 2011. Unlike the “draft” policy, the “final” policy broadly prohibits certain religious and political advertising. Some community members have advocated using the newly discovered “final” policy in order to ban a controversial bus ad from the Church of the Reconciliation now appearing on city buses.
In an Oct. 29 letter, ACLU-NCLF Legal Director Chris Brook told Chapel Hill officials that they cannot constitutionally abandon a longstanding practice of allowing virtually any group to purchase ads on public buses under these circumstances. Applying the more restrictive, previously dormant “final” policy in order to ban one particular ad would constitute viewpoint discrimination.
“The long practice of allowing all advertising on the buses, including those political in nature, trumps an unenforced paper policy and creates a public forum,” Brook wrote. “…We urge Chapel Hill to stand by its longstanding tradition of welcoming dialogue, including on its transit system. We further encourage the Town to adopt policy revisions that bring its policy in line with its practice by clarifying its bus advertising space constitutes a public forum.”
Read the entire letter online at acluofnc.org.