Commercial Speech

Inside the Law: Commercial Speech

July 02, 2018 - 3:30 am

By Amy E. Feldman, Judge Technology Solutions​

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- Do you have free speech on a billboard? 

An Alabama gym posted an ad on a billboard to get people to join that read: "Tired of being fat and ugly? Just be ugly."  

After complaints that the sign was offensive, city officials told the gym to remove it or they’d be ticketed. 

What? Would “and you’ll be gorgeous” have been less offensive? 

Even if you’re not a fan of truth in advertising, what about free speech? 

Well, that’s not as clear as it seems. While a person has the right to free speech, the rules are slightly different for commercial speech. While an advertiser has some free speech rights, a local government authority has the right to regulate signs. For the most part, the regulations must be content neutral—that is, they can’t base their rules on whether they like your message, but they can regulate speech if they have a compelling governmental interest, like preventing signs that dangerously distract drivers. 

Whether the figuratively thin-skinned are annoyed or offended is probably not a valid restriction, so the gym might be able to fight for its right to give us a dose of cold hard reality.