An Indiana bus company that refused to let a pro-life group advertise on city buses in Ft. Wayne is going to have to justify its decision in federal court.
Last fall, Women’s Health Link (WHL), a free pro-life referral service, requested to place dozens of advertising cards on the interior of buses. The ad features a photo of a young woman with the tagline “You’re Not Alone” and the organization’s contact information. But bus service Citilink denied the request twice because WHL’s website discussed “controversial issues” and the group is affiliated with Allen County Right to Life, according to Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed WHL’s lawsuit.
“We feel that this ad does not educate the general public or raise awareness regarding a significant social issue in a viewpoint neutral manner,” a Citilink representative said.
WHL is not a healthcare provider, but instead uses a network of providers to connect women to a variety of services “to ensure they have life-affirming healthcare.” Through WHL, women can find assistance with birth control information, STD testing, gynecological and pre-natal care, and adoption. In addition, WHL offers assistance with housing problems, financial issues, veterans’ services, sexual assault help, and spiritual care.
Citilink has allowed other healthcare-related non-profits to advertise on its buses, including Parkview Health, The Foundation for Fighting Blindness, and the United Way.
All ads displayed on the buses must comply with the company’s advertising policy, which states Citilink reserves the right to refuse any advertisement it deems inappropriate, including ads that promote violence, profanity, nudity, or that imply Citilink’s endorsement of “any service, product or point of view.”
The complaint filed by ADF explained that Citilink’s policies present no binding written guidelines for its officials to decide whether to permit or deny an ad, “granting Citilink officials unbridled discretion to accept or reject private expression protected by the First Amendment.”
“No one deserves to be silenced simply for having a viewpoint that city officials don’t favor,” lawyer Rory Gray said in a statement. “When the city creates an opportunity for community advertising, it cannot single out pro-life organizations for censorship. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all people, regardless of their political or religious beliefs.”