"ACLU of Michigan files lawsuit over refusal of 'Boycott Israel' ads"
ARAB AMERICAN NEWS (Dearborn, Michigan)
Saturday, December 3, 2011
DETROIT — Charging a violation of First Amendment rights, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit on Monday, November 28 against the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority for refusing to allow a local activist to purchase a bus ad calling for the boycott of Israel and its apartheid system.
Ann Arbor activist Blaine Coleman hoped to run an advertisement with the words "Boycott Israel, Boycott Apartheid" with a picture of a spider-like creature with a skull for a head on the side or back of an AATA bus to raise awareness.
The ACLU, which wrote a letter to AATA explaining their stance in August, is charging that the AATA's policy of prohibiting ads that are "likely to hold up to scorn or ridicule a person or group of persons" is unconstitutional, hile saying that the policy used to determine which ads to run is vague and overly broad. The lawsuit asks for a court order requiring AATA to treat Coleman's ad the same way it treats all other ads.
"In a free and democratic society, we cannot allow the government to suppress political speech, even if it is controversial, makes some uncomfortable, or stirs our emotions,said Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. The solution is never to censor unpopular speech, but to allow others the same opportunity to speak."
The AATA rejected Coleman's ad because it allegedly violates its advertising policy, which also states that "all advertising must be considered in good taste...."
...The AATA's attorneys finally responded in November saying that they will not run Coleman's ad.
Coleman said that he had been trying to get the ad published for almost a year but did not receive a response to his emails for months. He is thankful for the support from ACLU in defending his free speech rights but had hoped it wouldn't have been needed.
"It should not be necessary for the ACLU to defend your rights to demand a boycott of Israel; it is the most elementary of free speech rights, period," he said.
"After Israel massacred Palestine as well as Lebanon that should be elementary, of course.
"For generations, boycotts have been an effective tool to raise awareness and effect change, and I personally believe that a call to boycott Israel is the best way to empower the Palestinian people, said Coleman. However, you can't have a boycott if the government won't allow you to speak like everyone else."
The AATA has told various local news outlets that it will not comment on the situation due to the pending litigation.
The ACLU also obtained public records showing that the AATA accepts advertisements about many important issues, including local politics, race, and religion and has run the following ads: “In Washtenaw County black babies are 3x more likely to die than white babies," two political ads supporting candidates for district judge, “Breastfeeding makes babies smarter," and an ad for NorthRidge Church that reads: “NorthRidge Church is For Hypocrites. NorthRidge Church is For Fakes. NorthRidge Church is For Liars. NorthRidge Church is For Losers.”
Dan Korobkin, a staff attorney with ACLU-MI, agreed with Coleman's comments about free speech.
"Once a public agency decides to allow some people to speak, it can't pick and choose between the speech that it likes and the speech that it doesn't,said Korobkin. By allowing some messages, yet censoring Mr. Coleman, AATA is doing exactly what the First Amendment is designed to prohibit.
Coleman has attended various council and board meetings in order to persuade decision makers to join in the worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israeli products over their repeated violations of international law in the occupied territories.
He said he would like members of the Arab American community and supporters in Dearborn to join him.
"What I would like most to see come out of this case personally is for the Dearborn community to march into Dearborn City Council and demand a resolution to boycott all products from Israel," he said.