SEPTA's policy banning advocacy ads gets federal court hearing

That policy is now being challenged by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Pat Loeb
September 14, 2018 - 5:39 pm

KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- SEPTA’s effort to avoid controversy over advertisements on its vehicles hasn't worked.

At a federal court hearing, Friday, a journalism non-profit argued SEPTA's ad policy is so broad that it violates free speech.

After being forced to run anti-Muslim ads, three years ago, SEPTA adopted a new policy barring virtually any ad that could be considered advocacy.

That policy is now being challenged by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

CIR did a project on discriminatory lending in Philadelphia and wanted to publicize it, but SEPTA rejected its ad.

John Stapleton, an attorney for CIR, says that amounts to censorship.

“The government cannot censor speech,” he said. “It cannot vest itself with unbridled discretion the way Septa has tried to do here.”

SEPTA argued its vehicles are a limited public forum and, as such, it has the right to turn down advertisements that take a position on a political issue or matter of public debate.

CIR had asked for a preliminary injunction so it could advertise a public forum on the project, October 1.

Judge Michael Baylson said he'd take the injunction request under advisement, but did schedule a trial on the matter for the first week of October.

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