Philadelphia Censors Criminal Justice Ad


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.


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Photo from Phil Photostream via flickr


Michael MacDonald

@Diane S

You want the ACLU thrown out of the country?!!!

do you realize that they are the civil rights organization that fought with Malcolm X/Martin Luther King jr. to end segregation in America
or do you have a problem with that too?

seriously though,
if it weren't for the ACLU you would live in a country where black people would still be treated sub-human.

You should really know a little bit more about who your throwing insults at before you do it
if you're not a total racist who would have opposed the civil rights movement if it were happening today.

People sure don't appreciate having basic rights these days.

Plus, to people like you
drug addicts are sub-human and deserve to be locked up for life even though they are really just sick and suffering from an illness (addiction) in real life.

statements like those seriously make me puke.

Go live in a 3rd world dictatorship and then come back and say these things about the ACLU.
you don't know how to appreciate freedom you have do you?

Michael MacDonald

now that's unquestionably a clear violation of freedom of expression and in a way is limiting the people's right to redress grievances even though it's not necessarily though petitioning.
This is totally unconstitutional.

sandra m.
Past Member 6 years ago

interesting to say the least

Britin J.
Past Member 6 years ago

Diane S said:
Personally, I'd like to see the ACLU run out of the US - they don't seem to get the fact that ANY convicted felon has, by their act of committing a crime, abdicated their right to the same civil liberties and civil rights the rest of us mostly-law-abiding citizens and residents have!

So you are saying that when someone breaks the law they cease to be covered by our constitution? I bet you break laws all the time and don't even know you are doing it.... I hope you are never in a position to be on the "other side" of this comment, since if you have your way there will be no ACLU to protest for you....

Past Member 6 years ago

Nancy L, why are you so afraid that the people know the truth? Is it threatening your husbands job as prison guard?

Nancy L.
Nancy L6 years ago

I wouldn't have let them run it either. Good for them.

Steve P.
Steve P6 years ago

Cowards run the country and a good portion of the population is behind bars while the rest are under surveillance. This is neither the land of the free nor the home of the brave any more.

Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

Good for them! Would love to see them win this one. William K, thank you...just exactly the problem. We have lots of opinions based on emotional responses to what's fed via the media, and very little real information.

Thanks William E., I was just going to say the same thing. It's pretty ironic, huh.

David Anderson
David Anderson6 years ago

“Welcome to America, home to 5% of the world’s people and 25% of the world’s prisoners.

Any coincidence that the United States is also home to the greatest number of lawyers per capita in the world, and probably not far one way or the other from 25% in absolute value (no, I did not take the time to work through the math on that one, but only India matches us in absolute value!).

Nancy Black
Nancy Black6 years ago

It is common for cities to hide their dirty laundry instead of cleaning it up.