Not THAT kind of Brotherly Love

The NAACP and the ACLU filed suit against the City of Philadelphia over a refusal to accept an advertisement for placement at Philly International Airport. (source)

The billboard reads:

The billboard that Philadelphia rejected

The City claims it rejected the ad because of a policy against “issue” and “advocacy” billboards. However, the suit alleges that the City has allowed such ads in the past.

“There is no legitimate justification for the defendants’ refusal to accept this advertisement. The City now claims that it forbids ‘issue’ and ‘advocacy’ advertising at the airport, but there were numerous examples of such advertising in place before and after the NAACP ad was refused. In fact, the City does not appear to have any written policies, procedures, or standards regarding advertising at PHL, making the City’s approval system ad hoc and unconstitutional. And, to the extent that the City has clear standards regarding advertising at PHL, it has allowed Clear Channel to ignore those standards, resulting, again, in an ad hoc and standardless administration of such policies.” (source)

The ACLU criticized the City in a published statement:

“The government cannot pick and choose which speech it deems acceptable and which it does not,” said Chris Hansen, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “The fact that the airport accepted some political issue ads but not the NAACP’s shows the arbitrary nature of the city’s unwritten and undefined policy. It is a clear violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition against the government favoring some speakers over others. ”

The NAACP has a point or two. There is something utterly perverse about how many of our citizens live in prisons. Instead of exercising population control, as we should be, we let any old idiot reproduce — figuring that we need a supply of prisoners so that prison stocks can stay high. Or maybe it is actually a form of quiet genocide. When you stack it up against the fact that the TSA is oozing from our airports to our streets, and our press freedom ranking is noticeably below that of Estonia and Lithuania, and in the same neighborhood as Namibia, Hungary, and Mali, perhaps it is a vital sign reading that we shouldn’t ignore.

Of course, the suit itself (if the allegations are proven true) has a point as well. When the government gets into the business of approving or denying expression, it must do so in a content neutral manner. If the city disallows “issue” or “advocacy” ads, but allows ads that sell soap, it is wading into rough First Amendment waters. If, as the NAACP claims, there is no actual policy, but rather this is an ad hoc decision, the city’s case gets even tougher.

4 Responses to Not THAT kind of Brotherly Love

  1. Charles Platt says:

    Your frivolous comment about human reproduction may not be appropriate, because I believe the problem is not that we have too many lawbreakers. The problem is that the US locks them up for much longer than most other nations, so, the jail population accumulates. That is why we have a higher percentage of our citizens locked up than any other nation in the world. Thank the Reagans (I think Nancy had a role in creating the War on Drugs) and GWBush Sr (who rode into office on the Willie Horton “scandal,” after which no DA in the nation dared to be “soft on crime”). I had a guided tour through a jail recently, and the most enduring impression was of watching so many people–many nonviolent, and many simply waiting for their day in court because they could not make bail–sitting and doing nothing. I was paying them, through my local taxes, to sit there and do nothing. Plus, of course, they would emerge with the stigma of a prison record, making it harder for them to work or even find a place to live. But paying people to do nothing was somehow the worst aspect, to me.

    I love the NAACP proposed billboard. I would love it even more if the ACLU had the courage to do stuff like that.

  2. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society says:

    Actually, CP, I have been told, and believe, that something like 75% of the current prison population is essentially non-violent drug offenders. Get rid of those laws and their “victims” (by legalizing and taxing most drugs — PCP being one reasonable exclusion — and using the proceeds to fund anti-addiction programs and peer pressure “anti” programs) and things would make more sense.

    I have no problem with being tough on crime. We just should make it actual crimes we’re being tough on, and not some idiotic moral code that isn’t truly generic.

    Every drug jury ought to be Fully Informed about their rights as Jurors. Pretty soon, the number of drug convictions would plummet, and, given how it would effect their numbers, the number of drug arrests and charges filed would be vastly reduced.

    >> If the city disallows “issue” or “advocacy” ads, but allows ads that sell soap, it is wading into rough First Amendment waters.

    If should not be. I can’t support having public spaces being as much up to the “owner” as I would a private space, but if they choose to deny support for AND against any specific ideology, I can deal with that, though it must be clearly and fairly enforced

    • IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society says:


      The U.S. incarceration rate, now the highest in the world, was one-eighth the problem 40 years ago than it is now. From 1920 through 1970, the rate remained flat: with 0.1 per cent of Americans in prison at any one time. By 1980, the rate doubled: 0.2 per cent. By 1990, it doubled again: 0.5 per cent. By 2010, it reached a record high: 0.8 per cent. This exceeds two million people – roughly 25 per cent of whom are serving time for drugs.”

      Via Carpe Diem, an economics blog. (emphasis mine):

      Let’s End the Longest War in U.S. History

      A good piece peripherally related to this.

  3. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society says:

    I’d also have to wonder how many are there for various largely bogus regulatory infractions that did not exist 50 years ago.

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