- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority compared the American Civil Liberties Union’s national conference to a Ku Klux Klan rally in a court filing defending its decision to reject a proposed advertisement touting the ACLU’s event in downtown D.C. next month.

Metro’s attorneys made the comparison in D.C. federal court over the weekend after being sued by the ACLU for rejecting an advertisement the group hoped to place on buses and in train stations hyping its June 10-12 conference at the Washington Convention Center, WTOP reported Monday.

WMATA is not required to ignore the political advocacy content and purpose of the conference and (the) plaintiff’s long history of political advocacy when deciding if an ad violates its guidelines,” Metro argued, according to the report. “Were it otherwise, WMATA would have to accept ads from all manner of political advocacy organizations — national parties, political action committees, right-to-life and pro-choice groups and even groups like the Ku Klux Klan.”

“By (the) plaintiff’s reasoning, if the Ku Klux Klan proposed an advertisement that invited people to a Klan rally, WMATA would have to run it in its advertising space. This Court would have to ignore the fact that the Klan’s political messages and leanings are well-known and would be understood by most of WMATA’s customers and employees,” Metro argued, the report said.

The ACLU sued Metro on Friday morning after the transit agency said it wouldn’t run an ad for the group’s upcoming conference because it violated its policies against “issue ads” — 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.

The rejected ad featured the words “You Belong Here” above details about the ACLU conference, including its date, location and scheduled speakers, as well as the phrase “Don’t miss out” and the web address of a site containing event information.

Metro initially rejected a version of the ad in which the words were overlaid on top of an image of protesters holding signs containing slogans including “refugees welcome” and “stop profiling Muslims.” ACLU submitted alternative versions without the image, and the group sued Friday seeking either a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction when those proposals failed to garner a response.

“If WMATA allows ‘You belong here’ from a well-known immigrants’ rights advocate like (the) plaintiff, wouldn’t it have to allow an ad from an anti-immigration group that states ‘You don’t belong here’? That is the type of political debate that WMATA sought to foreclose by excluding all issue-oriented ads from its advertising space,” Metro responded Sunday, according to WTOP’s report.

“For WMATA, if it is forced to run the ads, it will set a precedent that undermines WMATA’s ability to control its advertising space,” Metro argued. “If the plaintiff’s ad runs in WMATA’s advertising space, WMATA will lose the ability to foreclose ads for other political conferences and rallies, including those by political parties, well-known hate groups and other controversial political speakers.”

A judge is slated to hear arguments in the case Tuesday afternoon.

“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 argued in their filing.

“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,” ACLU Legal Director Arthur Spitzer told WTOP last week.

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