City rejects atheist bus ad as "too controversial"
Conkle, Daniel O.
conkle at indiana.edu
Fri May 15 16:21:52 PDT 2009
The bus operator's policy in Bloomington (my current stomping grounds!) is slightly less vague that Steve's posting might suggest, although vagueness remains a serious problem. Citing its concerns about creating the appearance of favoritism and imposing controversial views on captive audiences, the policy limits ads to commercial ads, works of art, and "noncontroversial public service announcements." The policy specifically excludes political ads and ads containing "statements of position in support of or in opposition to controversial public issues." I assume the policy could be read to preclude not only atheistic messages but also sectarian religious appeals, although that's certainly not clear (which tends to support the ACLU's vagueness challenge).
Under a more clearly worded policy, could the bus operator exclude all political and religious advertising? Cf. Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights. Or would that be regarded as impermissible viewpoint discrimination, at least as to the religious messages? Cf. Lamb's Chapel, Good News Club, Rosenberger, etc.
Daniel O. Conkle
Robert H. McKinney Professor of Law
Indiana University Maurer School of Law
Bloomington, Indiana 47405
fax (812) 855-0555
e-mail conkle at indiana.edu
From: religionlaw-bounces at lists.ucla.edu [mailto:religionlaw-bounces at lists.ucla.edu] On Behalf Of Steve Sanders
Sent: Friday, May 15, 2009 1:12 PM
To: Religionlaw at lists.ucla.edu
Subject: City rejects atheist bus ad as "too controversial"
The Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign is seeking to buy advertising on municipal buses with the slogans "In the beginning, man created God" and "You can be good without God." The group explains on its web site (http://inatheistbus.org/), "We want to let everyone know that it's all right not to believe in a deity, that you do not need to be 'saved,' and that you can be a good person without religion. We hope that everyone will look at the facts and evidence before making life decisions, including religion."
The bus operator in Bloomington, IN (my old stomping grounds) refused to accept the "You can be good without God" ads because they were "too controversial." The Indiana Civil Liberties Union has sued on behalf of the campaign. See http://inatheistbus.org/2009/05/05/bloomington-rejects-you-can-be-good-without-god-lawsuit-underway/ for links to the complaint and press release.
Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan (disclosure: one of my undergrad classmates and old friends) says the city legal department won't represent Bloomington Transit, which is a separate municipal corporation which contracts with the city legal department. According to the Bloomington Herald-Times, "Kruzan said having city legal defend BT in court would amount to 'promoting government sanctioned censorship' because the bus service gets city legal's services at an hourly rate less than that of a private law firm, which is in essence a partial taxpayer subsidy."
Attorney<http://www.mayerbrown.com/lawyers/profile.asp?hubbardid=S597744167>, Supreme Court and appellate litigation practice group, Mayer Brown LLP, Chicago
Co-editor, Sexual Orientation and the Law Blog<http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/lgbtlaw/>
Adjunct faculty, University of Michigan Law School (Winter term 2010)
Email: stevesan at umich.edu<mailto:stevesan at umich.edu>
Personal home page: www.stevesanders.net<http://www.stevesanders.net/>
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