"American Civil Liberties Union files lawsuit against AATA for refusal to run anti-Israel ad"
By Krista Gjestland
ANN ARBOR JOURNAL (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
December 2, 2011
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit against the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority Monday morning for its refusal to run an anti-Israel ad on AATA buses.
Ann Arbor resident Blaine Coleman submitted an ad that read, "Boycott Israel, Boycott Apartheid," in December 2010.
In February, AATA refused his request, saying the ad violated its advertising policy. According to the policy, AATA can deny an ad if it "contains false, misleading or deceptive material, promotes an illegal activity, advocates violence or crime, infringes copyright, service mark, title or slogan or if it defames or is likely to hold up to scorn or ridicule a person or group of persons."
AATA also can deny an advertisement if it states or implies product or service endorsement, is a political ad, promotes alcohol or tobacco, or if it contains obscene material.
In a complaint issued to AATA in August, Coleman's lawyers cite several advertisements that violated AATA policy, but were allowed regardless, including ads that advocated breastfeeding, HIV testing, domestic violence awareness and promoting Joan Lowenstein for 15th District Court judge in Ann Arbor.
ACLU-Michigan lawyer Dan Korobkin, who is representing Coleman in this case, said the ACLU got involved, asking for AATA to reconsider based on the complaint submitted.
"We contacted AATA and asked for them to reconsider their position and run the ad," he said. "The actual governing board of the AATA met to discuss the issue and ultimately decided to not run the ad."
After meeting, the bus authority reached the same conclusion, denying Coleman's ad. According to the ACLU's press release, "The ACLU of Michigan's lawsuit argues that AATA's policy is vague and overly broad and asks a judge to strike it down as unconstitutional for violating the First Amendment right to free speech and the 14th Amendment right to due process. The lawsuit asks for a court order requiring AATA to treat Coleman's ad the same way it treats all other ads."
"AATA should run Mr. Coleman's ad under the same guidelines and rules and policies that it applies to every other ad," Korobkin said. "AATA should not be allowed to reject the ad based on its content or the views expressed in the ad."
According to Coleman, it's "racist violence" in Palestine that he takes issue with, and inspired him to try to run the ad.
"It's my personal opinion that Palestinians are facing genocide," he said. "I believe that I have the right and the duty to ask for a boycott of Israel the same way that people asked for a boycott of apartheid South Africa."
Coleman said he could give three examples of why he believes as he does.
"The first example is that Israel massacred over 1,200 innocent, helpless Palestinians in Gaza three years ago," he said. "The second example is that Israel massacred over 1,200 innocent, helpless Lebanese people in 2006. The third example is that Israel was very closely allied with the apartheid state of Africa for many years."
The complaint issued to AATA cites a December 2010 Human Rights Watch Report, "Separate and Unequal: Israel's Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories" as support for Coleman's opinions.
The complaint states: "The report states that the Israeli government is responsible for a 'two- tier system of laws, rules, and services" in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.' It alleges that '(s)uch different treatment, on the basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin and not narrowly tailored to meet security or other justifiable goals, violates the fundamental prohibition against discrimination under human rights law.'"
Coleman said he is not against any group of people.
"Is it anti-anybody the demand an end to apartheid in occupied Palestine?" he said. "Of course not."
Korobkin said the ACLU took the case because it believes it's a violation of the First Amendment, and it often take cases it may not personally agree with....