- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2018

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in D.C. Superior Court on Friday after Metro rejected an advertisement touting the ACLU’s national convention next month.

The ACLU had planned to promote its upcoming conference in Metro stations and on busses in the days before the event June 10-12, but the agency refused the first ad the group submitted and ignored two alternatives, ACLU Legal Director Arthur Spitzer said Friday.

“We were going to send $90,000 to Metro to run our ad, and they could use $90,000 and they said no,” Mr. Spitzer told WJLA, a local ABC affiliate. “And so we decided to go to court this morning, asking the court to say to Metro, ‘What’s your problem?’ “

With two weeks to go until its conference convenes at Washington Convention Center, the ACLU had hoped to promote the event through ads submitted to appear at 45 locations in Metro stations and on 75 buses, WTOP reported. ACLU’s initial ad was rejected by Metro last Thursday, however, and the agency ultimately filed Friday’s motion after the transit agency ignored two alternatives submitted in the interim.

The ads feature the words “You Belong Here” above information about the conference including its date, location and scheduled speakers, as well as the phrase “Don’t miss out” a the address of a website containing additional details about the event.

In the first ad submitted, the words are overlaid on a photo of protesters holding signs containing slogans including “refugees welcome” and “stop profiling Muslims.”

Metro said the submission violated its policies against ads intended to influence public policy, but the ACLU said the agency’s explanation is “perplexing, to say the least,” because it merely promotes an event.

“If Ringling Bros. can advertise for people to come to their circus, the ACLU should be able to advertise for people to come to its conference,” ACLU attorneys wrote in the motion, WTOP reported.

ACLU subsequently submitted alternatives on Monday — one without the protest signs, and one without the image altogether — but neither garnered a response as of Friday’s request for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction.

“The decision to reject this ad is unconstitutional, so we’re suing,” ACLU said through its Twitter account.

Metro does not comment on pending litigation, a transit spokesperson told WJLA. The agency is expected to weigh in over the weekend, however, after a Superior Court judge on Friday ordered Metro to respond by Sunday evening, WTOP reported. Both sides are slated to argue the issue Tuesday afternoon.

Metro prohibits ads “intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions,” ads that “support or oppose an industry position or industry goal without any direct commercial benefit to the advertiser” and ads “intended to influence public policy,” according to rules adopted by the agency in 2015.

“This one is different, because I don’t frankly see what argument Metro can even make that this is an issue ad … it’s just an ad that says, basically, please come to our membership conference,” Mr. Spitzer told WTOP.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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