A federal judge has agreed that the Ann Arbor Transit Authority had the right to reject a bus ad campaign by an anti-Israel activist. The ad shows a spider crushing skulls, framed by the words: “Boycott Israel, Boycott Apartheid,” CBS News in Detroit reported.
ACLU Attorney Dan Korobkin said he was disappointed by Judge Mark Goldsmith’s decision, and Blaine Coleman, the anti-Israeli activist that Korobkin is representing—was also disappointed.
In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the AATA and its CEO Michael Ford on behalf of Coleman, over the agency’s refusal to accept Coleman’s advertisement calling for a boycott of Israel.
“His view is that Israel should be boycotted because it’s equivalent to apartheid, and, as the ACLU, we don’t take a position on the validity of that opinion,” Korobkin told WWJ Newsrasdio 950′s Sandra McNeil. ”But we feel very strongly that, no matter what someone’s opinion is, that speech should be heard.”
A key to the ACLU’s position, according to The Ann Arbor Chronicle, is a 1998 case involving a labor union that had proposed an advertisement on a regional transit authority’s vehicles, but had the ad rejected on the grounds that it was “too controversial and not aesthetically pleasing.” The case was argued and won by the union in the U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit.
Part of the ACLU’s argument, explained the Chronicle, relies on the idea that the AATA has, in fact, through its past pattern of accepted ads, established a “public forum,” although the AATA’s ad policy explicitly states that the AATA “does not [with its ad program] intend to create a public forum.”
The AATA said the ad violated their advertising policy, reported CBS News’ Sandra McNeill.
“There is no doubt that some people find this ad to be offensive and maybe even personally hurtful or outrageous,” Korobkin argued. “But that kind of speech has always been protected by the First Amendment by our country, and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be protected here.”
He stated: “It is not the government’s role to censor speech. Even when the speech is controversial, offensive or unpopular.”