Federal judge: Transit system that bans religious ads can ban atheist posters too

A United States federal judge this week ruled the County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS), of Pennsylvania, did not violate an atheist group’s right to free speech by rejecting its ads.  COLTS cited a policy it enacted in 2011. The policy states COLTS will not accept advertising that, “…promote the existence or non-existence of a supreme deity, deities, being or beings.”

The Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society filed a federal lawsuit alleging the transit system allowed several churches to advertise before the atheist group tried to place an ad in 2012, according to an Associated Press report printed in the Seattle Times. The AP report does not mention that COLT’s ban on such advertisement was already in place when the atheist group applied to place its ad.

US District Judge Malachy E. Mannion’s ruling concludes, “The legal issues presented in this case are particularly fact specific. By way of this decision, the court in no way diminishes the importance of free speech in our society. In fact, in today’s society, free speech is more important than ever. That being said, the law dictates that, under the facts of this case alone, that COLTS’ advertising space is a limited forum  and  that COLTS did  not violate Freethought’s First Amendment right to  free speech by refusing  to place  its advertisement on COLTS’  buses. For the foregoing reasons, judgment will be entered in favor of COLTS and against Freethought. An appropriate order will issue.

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