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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

NAACP Sues Philadelphia Over Prison Ad

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - The NAACP says Philadelphia and Clear Channel unconstitutionally refuse to post its ad for prison reform at the Philadelphia International Airport. The ad states: "Welcome to America, home to 5% of the world's people & 25% of the world's prisoners. Let's build a better America together."

The NAACP claims the defendants' refusal is an unconstitutional prior restraint of the ads content and viewpoint.

And it says that the city's claim that "issue" and "advocacy" ads are prohibited at the airport is untrue, as is demonstrated by the record.

"Clear Channel has acted in concert with the City of Philadelphia in the creation and maintenance of unconstitutional restrictions on advertising at PHL," the complaint states, using airlines' acronym for the airport.

"The advertisement at issue discusses the high level of and cost of incarceration in America's prisons, a subject of immense national and local interest.

"There is no legitimate justification for the defendants' refusal to accept this advertisement. The City now claims that it forbids 'issue' and 'advocacy' advertising at the airport, but there were numerous examples of such advertising in place before and after the NAACP ad was refused. In fact, the City does not appear to have any written policies, procedures, or standards regarding advertising at PHL, making the City's approval system ad hoc and unconstitutional. And, to the extent that the City has clear standards regarding advertising at PHL, it has allowed Clear Channel to ignore those standards, resulting, again, in an ad hoc and standardless administration of such policies."

The NAACP says the defendants have allowed numerous advocacy and issue ads at the airport, including World Wildlife Federation ads promoting "responsible fishing practices," panda habitat preservation, and climate change's threats to polar bears; an ad from the Foundation For A Better Life, promoting peace, bearing an image of Bishop Desmond Tutu; an ad from the same foundation promoting racial equality, with a photo of baseball legend Jackie Robinson; a PTA ad; and ad warning about the dangers of sexual predators on the Internet; and an ad from the USO stating, "Support *Our* Troops."

The NAACP says its ad, which promotes its "Misplaced Priorities" report on America's high incarceration rate, has been placed on "a rolling billboard that was displayed throughout Philadelphia, without incident."

And the city's refusal to display the ad is at odds with Philadelphia's permissive approach to leafleting at the Airport, the NAACP says: "The City's policy on leafleting at PHL makes clear that issue-oriented, advocacy leafleting is permitted at PHL, subject only to the ordinary time, place, and manner conditions. Thus, under the City's own leafleting policy, if the NAACP sought to hand out leaflets inside PHL containing the exact same language and images as in its proposed advertisements, the City would have permitted such leafleting to occur."

The NAACP seeks declaratory judgment that the refusal to post the ad, and the lack of a policy by which it was rejected, violates the First and 14th Amendments, and if there is such a policy, it violates the First and 14th Amendments too.

It wants the defendants ordered to accept the ad and enjoined "from refusing any other advertisements for Philadelphia International Airport in the absence of narrow, objective, definite, and constitutional standards regarding the acceptance or refusal of such advertisements."

The NAACP's lead attorney is Mary Catherine Roper, with the ACLU.

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