A ban by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on "non-commercial viewpoint advertisements" would violate the Connecticut as well as the U.S. Constitution, the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut has told the MTA in a letter.
The New York-based MTA operates commuter rail service in Connecticut through its Metro-North subsidiary on the New Haven line and its branches. According to news reports, the plan to review its advertising policy was prompted by controversy over advertisements, some critical of Israel and some of Islam, submitted to the MTA.
"The bottom line is that the MTA, a government agency, may not reject advertisements simply because they contain an opinion," said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut. "The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution limits government restrictions on free speech, and the Connecticut Constitution adds even more speech protections."
In Connecticut, the state constitution prohibits any form of discrimination based on subject matter and allows all speakers access to government property if the manner of speech - in this case advertising - is permitted. In addition, Article First, Section 4, of the Connecticut Constitution would likely be interpreted to prohibit prior restraint; courts have found similar language in other state constitutions to do just that.
"The same rules that can be used to stop controversial or bigoted speech will ultimately be used to prevent us from speaking out against such speech," Schneider said. "That would be much worse than a few offensive words."
--September 12, 2012