About a year ago, the Town of Chapel Hill amended its bus advertisement policy to spell out rules for ads with political messages. In August, the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill placed an ad that shows a Jewish and a Palestinian grandfather each with a grandchild and reads “Join with us. Build peace with justice and equality. End U.S. military aid to Israel.” The ad stirred up a controversy and led to a petition from citizens to change the bus ad policy to disallow such ads. The current policy is available online at http://www.townofchapelhill.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=15328.
On Friday, the ACLU of North Carolina sent a letter to the Chapel Hill town manager and elected officials outlining why changing the bus ad policy would violate the free speech clause of the First Amendment. Below is the ACLU-NC press release. The full letter is available here.
The town has scheduled a public forum on the bus ads for Thursday, October 11, at 7:00 pm during the Chapel Hill Town Council's regular business meeting.
ACLU-NC to Chapel Hill: Censoring Bus Ads Violates First Amendment
In Letter, Constitutional Law Group Warns Chapel Hill Town Officials that Removing a Bus Ad Because of Its Political Message Would Constitute Content & Viewpoint Discrimination
RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) sent a letter to officials from the Town of Chapel Hill on Friday, urging them to “safeguard cherished First Amendment rights and its reputation as a community welcoming of dialogue” by allowing a recent controversial advertisement to remain on city buses.
The letter was sent after the ACLU-NCLF received numerous complaints from Chapel Hill residents concerned by a proposal from some town officials to remove a public bus advertisement paid for by the Church of Reconciliation and featuring a Palestinian and an Israeli man holding their grandchildren with text reading, “Join with us. Build peace with justice and equality. End U.S. military aid to Israel.”
In its letter, the ACLU-NCLF explains that removing the ad solely because of disagreement with its content, as some officials have proposed, would constitute subject matter and viewpoint discrimination in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“The freedom of citizens to express political beliefs without being censored by their government is one of the most basic and cherished rights protected by our Constitution,” said ACLU-NCLF Legal Director Chris Brook, who authored the letter. “In fact, speech that is unpopular, controversial, or incites strong emotions is exactly what the First Amendment was designed to protect. We urge Chapel Hill officials to stand up for the free speech rights of their citizens by keeping the town’s bus ads open as a forum for public dialogue free of government censorship.”
Read the entire letter at acluofnc.org.
The ACLU of North Carolina is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to preserving and expanding the guarantees of individual liberty found in the United States and North Carolina Constitutions and related federal and state civil rights laws. With more than 12,000 members and supporters throughout the state and an office located in Raleigh, the organization achieves its mission through advocacy, public education, community outreach, and when necessary, litigation.