Will Free Speech Have To Make A Bus Stop In Arkansas?

Submitted By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

The Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason has a First Amendment problem. When the coalition of atheists, agnostics, and skeptics attempted to place advertising on Little Rock transit buses, they were met with an unusual demand. In order to place $5,000.00 worth of advertising, the Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA) required them to purchase insurance against angry Christians in the amount of $36,000.00. The policy was needed said the bus company’s ad agency, On The Move Advertising, because a handful of similar ads had been vandalized in other states.

The controversial ad, affixed to the sides of the buses reads, “Are you good without God? Millions are.” A blue sky with clouds was to be the background behind the words. Shocking news,  or so it would seem, in this Bible Belt state which is overwhelmingly Christian (86%) and predominantly Baptist.  According to an email from On The Move, “”Arkansas is the buckle of the Bible Belt and I can easily envision zealots or upstanding citizens with a strong faith acting out.” A telling comment if ever there was one.

 There is no such insurance requirement on similar church advertising. According to Jess Sweere, Esq.,  who represents the Transit Authority, this because ” no other advertiser told them their ads were vandalized in other markets.”  Out of 36 markets where ad campaigns have run, four have been vandalized, including bus ads in Detroit last year, according to UnitedCoR, a DC based group that organizes atheists and helps fund the ads. UnitedCoR placed similar ads in Fayetteville, Arkansas last year without incident.

UnitedCoR has filed a Complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas claiming discrimination by the Transit Authority and is seeking a preliminary injunction to permit the ads. According to their spokesman, LeeWood Thomas, “The insurance money needed from us basically says CATA and On The Move trust the atheists in this community more so than the religious, otherwise the churches that advertise would have that extra insurance premium added to their total cost.” Trust or no, Thomas says that’s punishment based on the content of the speech and shouldn’t be permitted.

In its brief, UnitedCoR argues that “CATA and On the Move violated UnitedCoR’s free speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. UnitedCoR asserts that the First Amendment prohibits CATA, as a governmental entity, from using its disfavor of the nontheistic message of UnitedCoR’s ads as a reason for refusing to run them on its buses. UnitedCoR argues that CATA also may not impose burdensome requirements, such as a damage deposit, on speech it labels ‘controversial.’ Such acts, the legal brief states, amount to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination against UnitedCoR’s speech.”

As bus advertising is a non-traditional public forum, UnitedCoR has its work cutout for it since the level of First Amendment scrutiny is reduced, but the Plaintiffs have other factors in their favor. UnitedCoR may be able to use the words of CATA’s Executive Director to prove its case. In an email, Betty Wineland, supposedly writes, ” I need Him now more than ever. Good grief. I think we need to throw religion into the advertising policy – as a negative. Stall while CATA reviews.” “Him” may be just the thing UnitedCoR needs to prevail in its claims of discrimination and the last thing Ms. Wineland needed at the moment.

Source: Yahoo News and UnitedCoR

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

13 thoughts on “Will Free Speech Have To Make A Bus Stop In Arkansas?”

  1. What seems, not who seems to be the likely culprit to damage their own buses….Oh yeah…didn’t they damage buses and schools when Brown was attempted to be enforced…did they make the D of Ed post insurance policy’s….

  2. rafflaw,

    But we’ll invade to bring them democracy and that will mean the Civil War all over again.

  3. Henry,

    Yeah I agree with you.

    But I think the solution would be simpler if they just don’t allow any advertisements that pertains to religious beliefs for the sake of enforcing the separation between the government and religion.

  4. culheath and rafflaw, be careful what you ask for. If we boot out those Confederate states, then they’ll reinstitute slavery.

  5. ChaZ, it won’t do to argue that the insurance requirement makes sense, because, whether it makes sense or not, it blatantly violates the First Amendment to the Constitution, and the Constitution is the highest law of the land.

    The article states, “UnitedCoR argues that CATA also may not impose burdensome requirements, such as a damage deposit, on speech it labels ‘controversial.’ Such acts, the legal brief states, amount to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination against UnitedCoR’s speech.” But UnitedCoR has no need to argue that, because the question has been settled and is beyond argument. What the transit authority want to impose is called a heckler’s veto, and that is unconstitutional. The court will disallow the insurance requirement, and, if it doesn’t, the U.S. Supreme Court, even with the Neanderthal majority it now has, will reverse.

  6. The major problem is that… this is Arkansas we are talking about. Have you been there?

    If it was in New York City, Minneapolis, Seattle, or Los Angeles, I don’t see what would the problem be.

    But this is about Arkansas!

    Have you ever been there? Have you ever entered Wal-Mart and see majority of those people wearing Realtree(TM) camouflage clothes? Even the toddlers and wives! We’re talking about those people who carries rifles, shotguns, and anything that shoots in their Ford or Chevy trucks. The very same people who believes that Jesus is the answer to their life (and why their microwaves work).

    I don’t blame the transit authority for doing this. It costs a lot of money to fix the bullet holes in those buses!

  7. Culheath,
    If we could boot a few states out, I have a long list started. Texas, Florida, Arizona just to name a few!
    Great post Mespo.

  8. This situation prompts a weird question: I know states can’t legally opt out of the union, but can the union legally boot one out?

  9. Maybe the sign should be replaced with one that reads “Are you better without God, Millions Are.”

  10. So, if I want to shut someone up all I have to do is damage property when they advertise. That seems simple enough! Thanks for the tip. I have to go throw some bricks through some windows now – bye!

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