This afternoon in Spokane in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals, ACLU of Washington lawyers representing the Seattle Middle East Awareness Campaign (SeaMAC) will argue that King County violated its First Amendment rights when it refused to run an ad on Metro buses proclaiming: "Israeli War Crimes: Your Tax Dollars at Work," challenging a court ruling from earlier this year that upheld the decision to bar the advertisement.
The case is similar to another local lawsuit the ACLU has been involved in, in which non-profit Working Washington challenged a Sound Transit decision to refuse an ad intended to run on the Link light rail that called into question the compensation of low-wage workers at SeaTac airport.
Both suits contend that their respective, government supported modes of transportation - in the case of the SeaMAC Metro buses, and in the case of Working Washington the Link light rail - constitute designated public forums and the decisions to not allow the ads in question violates the agencies' pre-existing advertising policies.
The SeaMAC lawsuit against King County stems from a 2010 decision by the county to refuse the "Israeli War Crimes: Your Tax Dollars at Work" ad after it had initially been accepted, a reaction to public outcry over the ad's message. A press release distributed by the ACLU of Washington earlier today says that after an agreement had been reached for the ad to run on 12 Metro buses for four weeks, the county caved to outside pressure and in December 2010 announced that its previous advertising policy was no longer applicable and a new, interim advertising policy was installed.
All of this, according to SeaMAC and the ACLU, constitutes a clear violation of the non-profit's First Amendment rights, leading to the lawsuit being filed in January 2011. In October a district court rejected the suit, leading to today's appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
"In a free and democratic society, we cannot allow the government to suppress lawful speech," said ACLU of Washington Executive Director Kathleen Taylor in a written statement distributed to the media. "We should keep in mind that mild speech doesn't need protection. It is when we are faced with controversial speech, speech that is upsetting to some people, that support of the First Amendment is most important."
The lawsuit seeks to force Metro Transit to run the ad, as well as recouping legal fees.
Find the original complaint filed by the Seattle Middle East Awareness Campaign on the following page.