The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are suing the City of Philadelphia for violating the First Amendment. In a lawsuit filed on October 19, the NAACP alleges that the City of Philadelphia refused to run an advertisement at the airport promoting criminal justice reform and highlighting the high incarceration rate in the United States of America.
The ad that was rejected by the city reads: “Welcome to America, home to 5% of the world’s people and 25% of the world’s prisoners. Let’s build a better America together.” It also includes the URL for the NAACP’s Misplaced Priorities Report, which examines the shift of state funding away from education and into the criminal justice system (in other words treating the symptoms rather than addressing the roots of the problem).
The City of Philadelphia claimed that the airport does not accept issue or advocacy advertisements despite the fact that it has done so in the past. NAACP General Counsel Kim Keenan noted that:
The walls of Philadelphia International Airport are public space, and city officials do not have the right to suppress any group’s viewpoint based on their own beliefs or political considerations. Our First Amendment right to free speech is just as strong as that of the U.S.O., the World Wildlife Federation or any other advocacy group that has graced the walls of the airport.
Interestingly, in the Misplaced Priorities Report, several cities are profiled, including Philadelphia. The Philadelphia City Profile notes that:
Of the city’s 35 lower performing schools, 23 (66 percent) are clustered in or very near neighborhoods with the highest rates of incarceration — where the biggest taxpayer investment is being made towards incarceration. By contrast, of Philadelphia’s 28 higher performing schools, 21 (75 percent) are in neighborhoods with the lowest rates of incarceration.
Perhaps the City of Philadelphia only accepts issue or advocacy based ads when they are not targeting the city directly.
The refused ad was posted on the NAACP’s facebook page around noon on October 19 with a note that read:
The City of Philadelphia refused to allow us to publicize this ad in the Philly airport about over-incarceration in America. Share this to “run the ad” on your Facebook wall and take a stand for the First Amendment.
By 11:00pm on October 20, the ad had been shared more than 850 times. Ironically, the ad that the City of Philadelphia was hoping to prevent from being seen, may end up being seen by even more people as a result of the controversy and law suit.
Photo from Phil Photostream via flickr