9th Circuit Upholds Ban on Bus Ads About Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Facebook / Street Cred - Advertising for the People
Facebook / Street Cred - Advertising for the People

In an editorial published Friday, the Los Angeles Times has lambasted the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for upholding the decision of Seattle’s transit system to block ads that denounced the U.S. for supporting “Israeli war crimes”–and all ads relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Times reported, “In 2010, the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign submitted an ad to run on King County Metro buses that read ‘Israeli War Crimes: Your Tax Dollars at Work.’ The ad was accepted, but before it could be displayed protesters alerted by a TV report flooded the agency with emails, some threatening vandalism or violence.”

The Times noted that pro-Israel groups responded with ads targeting “Palestinian war crimes” with pictures of a burning bus and bloody passengers. The county executive then banned any ads from either side, arguing they would cause “harm to, disruption of, or interference with the transportation system.”

he U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the right of the transit system to refuse the ads, with Judge Paul J. Watford asserting the transit system was within its power in enforcing the ban because it was “viewpoint neutral.”

The Times argues that other court decisions have asserted that transit agencies running ads must function under a “content neutral” policy, adding that by refusing the ads, the transit agency offers a “heckler’s veto” to “shadowy protesters.”

The Times concludes, “…once an agency decides to turn its buses into public forums, the 1st Amendment prevents it from declaring an entire subject off-limits because it wants to avoid controversy. The 9th Circuit got this one wrong.”