For Immediate Release
Contact: Felicity Bower
Full contact info at end
May 11, 2011
PHOENIX CENSORSHIP CHALLENGED
PHOENIX CENSORSHIP CHALLENGED
PHOENIX CENSORSHIP CHALLENGED
The Goldwater Institute today filed a lawsuit against the city of Phoenix, alleging unconstitutional suppression of free speech. The city in October last year had censored a set of gun-safety-training advertisements posted under contract by TrainMeAZ LLC, a coalition of members of the firearms industry. (Goldwater's announcement is at the end of this email.) The Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation at the Institute is represnting us.
The group's website, TrainMeAZ.com, displays the censored “Educate Your Kids” promotional ads, along with others the group has erected around the state. A total of 50 illuminated bus-stop ads had been posted around the city under contract for about one week before Phoenix told its contractor, CBS Outdoor, to tear down the printed messages. CBS replaced them with public-service announcements and some out-of-date older ads to fill the space. See the censored ads here:
“My jaw dropped when people began to call asking where our ads went,” said Alan Korwin, author of The Arizona Gun Owner's Guide and manager of the TrainMeAZ program. “We were getting great responses when the city let us know they had decided our ads were unacceptable,” he said. “What power do they have to sit in judgment of our free speech? We began an active dialog with the city about the content to which they objected. While we awaited the next phone call, they had them all torn down literally overnight, without notice,” Korwin said.
The suit charges the city with several violations of fundamental rights. First, the Phoenix transit advertising standards on their face impose greater restrictions on noncommercial than on commercial speech, which is unconstitutional. The standards are also impermissibly vague, and are arbitrarily and unequally applied -- for which there is substantial proof -- all of which are constitutionally unacceptable. From the complaint: “Because defendants are violating plaintiffs' federal and state constitutional rights to free expression, due process and equal protection, the transit advertising standards as written and enforced cannot stand.”
The free-speech clause of the Arizona Constitution is generally considered a stronger protection of rights than the federal First Amendment protection. This is because Arizona specifically guarantees a right, as opposed to simply preventing government from acting against the right. The state Constitution says:
6. Freedom of speech and press
Section 6. Every person may freely speak,
write, and publish on all subjects,
being responsible for the abuse of that right.
The ads featured a bright red heart with the words, “Guns Save Lives,” and a headline reading, “Educate your kids. TrainMeAZ.com.” Though the website is filled with commercial shooting ranges and training opportunities for people to hire and use, the city claimed the ads were non-commercial and public-service advertising, both of which it claims it can censor.
A survey of ads posted at the time revealed numerous public-service ads and others that did not explicitly “propose a commercial transaction,” which the city claims is a prerequisite for all ads. This suggests it was actually the content to which the city objected, a speech restriction government cannot legitimately make. At the least, the standard is inconsistently and arbitrarily applied. The city in no uncertain terms publicly stated at a meeting that the non-headline content-rich text of the ad had to be removed. That text can be read at the bottom of the TrainMeAZ.com home page. http://www.trainmeaz.com Content-based censorship has virtually no support in the legal system.
A series of announcements is planned as the case proceeds.
The Goldwater Institute has set up a web page to track the case:
Plaintiff in the free-speech lawsuit
against the city of Phoenix, Ariz. --
as drawn by Pulitzer-prize-winning cartoonist Steve
This is the bus-shelter poster Arizonans put up
that the city of Phoenix tore down:
Learn more here: http://www.trainmeaz.com
Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts blogged when the censorship hit:
Ms. Roberts 10/23/10 column on the censorship:
Examiner coverage by David Codrea:
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Goldwater Institute Files Lawsuit to Stop Arbitrary Censorship of Gun Ads
Korwin v. Cotton Seeks To Protect Free Speech
PHOENIX – Today, the Goldwater Institute filed a legal challenge to the removal of a business advertisement from 50 Phoenix bus shelters in October 2010, claiming the city’s rules are so vague that they allow city officials to violate business owners’ right to free speech.
The Phoenix Public Transit Department says posters for a website operated by TrainMeAz did not comply with city standards for advertising at bus shelters. But city officials cannot explain how the TrainMeAZ ads are substantially different than posters that appear on bus stops throughout the city for other businesses including jewelry stores, fast-food restaurants, and weekend gun shows, said Clint Bolick, the Goldwater Institute’s litigation director.
“Phoenix’s officials can oversee the content of advertising on city property to prevent obscene material or truly inappropriate messages,” Mr. Bolick said. “But the city cannot dismiss ads based on a bureaucratic whim. The free speech protections of the First Amendment and the Arizona Constitution require the city to enforce clear and objective standards that treat advertisers in a fair and equal manner.”
The Arizona Constitution protects free expression to a greater degree than the federal Constitution – it gives every person in the state the right to “freely speak, write and publish.” But the City’s ordinance permits only commercial speech at bus stops, prohibiting all other types of advertisements. This doesn’t comply with the state’s broad speech protections. In Arizona, the government may not favor one type of speech over other types.
The TrainMeAz website was created in 2010 to connect self-defense and marksmanship trainers with potential customers. To grow the new business, the website launched a promotion campaign that included roadside billboards. It also contracted for poster locations with CBS Outdoors, a private company hired by the Phoenix transit department to manage advertising at city bus stops. A week after the bus stop ads were in place, Phoenix transit officials ordered their removal. Negotiations to restore the ads failed, as the city claimed the posters did not propose “a commercial transaction.”
“If this is left unchallenged, there’s a serious risk that bureaucrats will apply their own personal views to determine which ads are accepted or rejected, violating the First Amendment’s protection from arbitrary government censorship,” Mr. Bolick said. “A vegetarian transit official could reject ads featuring fast-food burgers, or a conservative official could reject ads for businesses associated with liberal causes.”
The Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation represents TrainMeAz LLC and company manager Alan Korwin in this legal case. The Goldwater Institute has requested the courts strike down the city ordinance on bus shelter advertising, so that a new version can be adopted that provides clear standards for the transit department to follow. As an alternative, the courts also could determine that TrainMeAz’s ads should not have been removed.
Read more about this and other Goldwater Institute cases to protect individual rights and uphold the Constitution at <http://www.goldwaterinstitute.org/korwinvcotton>www.goldwaterinstitute.org/korwinvcotton. The Goldwater Institute is an independent government watchdog <https://secure.goldwaterinstitute.org/donate/index.php>supported by people who are committed to expanding free enterprise and liberty.
Director of Communications
Goldwater Institute | <http://www.goldwaterinstitute.org/>www.GoldwaterInstitute.org