PETA Sues for Its Free Speech Rights, Again

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is known for some wacky campaigns—from SuggestionsTo swap “bring your bacon home” with “bring the bagels home,” condemningFormer Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie (R–N.J.) For capturing a spider and more Asking Ben & Jerry’s to use human breast milk in place of cow’s milk. PETA was not allowed to advertise on Maryland buses. However, PETA won a lower court ruling last week that PETA is free to continue the legal battle for the rejection of the advertisement.  

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland rescinded the request on January 18.MotionPETA filed a suit against Shore Transit in an attempt to disqualify the provider of public transit. Filled on August 17. lawsuit contendsThe Shore Transit director Brad Bellacicco and the Tri-County Council for the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland committed a violation of PETA’s First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights, by refusing to run two advertisements. 

PETA ran ads in May 2020 advertising the interiors of Shore Transit’s buses. (See below). Its motto is “No One Must Kill to Eat.” The images aren’t too graphic and close the slaughterhouses. Shore Transit denied PETA’s request, claiming that the ads were too offensive. [its]”Market and Political in Nature”

PETA says that the transit company has a policy against “political”, “offensive” and “controversial ads. However, PETA insists that PETA advertising is not restricted to any one of these categories. They View“Animal slaughter is considered offensive, controversial, unacceptable, and in bad taste.” PETA states that “No one has to kill for food” is an actual fact. 

Last week, the Court rejected the motion to dismiss. Say it“The Court understands that defendants may want to restrict graphic or gory imagery from its buses. But the Court finds it difficult to accept that defendants have done so in an amoral and unreasonable manner.” 

PETA—represented by Brian Hauss of the American Civil Liberties Union and Robin Cockey of Cockey, Brennan & Maloney—argues that buses should be considered a “designated public forum or, in the alternative, a limited public forum,” and therefore, prohibiting the ads is violating the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

The lawsuit states that the policy’s broad prohibitions give enforcement officers unfettered discretion. PETA claims that the policy cannot be applied rationally, is content- and viewpoint discriminatory and therefore unconstitutionally vague.

PETA also claims that Shore Transit restrictions are too vague, which is in violation of the Due Process Clause. PETA argues that these restrictions should provide “adequate notice of what speech is forbidden and encourage arbitrary enforcement.”  

Asher Smith, director of litigation for PETA is happy with the court’s recent decision that the case can move on. The court granted PETA’s lawsuit its greenlight. He stated, “By giving PETA the lawsuit, the Court struck a blow at Shore Transit’s policy that allows officials to unrestricted powers to censor the public’s view and supported the rule for free speech.”

This is not the group’s first court appearance. Their advertisements were banned Washington, D.C.,And Los Angeles transit systems, as well as Texas A&M’s transit system—a policy which Texas A&M later admittedPETA was violated 

In 2017, David Post CoveredWashington, D.C. LawsuitPlease see the following: The Volokh Conspiracy in which the ACLU represented PETA, Milo Yiannopoulos, abortion provider Carafem, and their own organization—all of which had ads rejected by WMATA. PETA’s ads urged people to “Go Vegan” or “De-Calf Your Coffee.” Ironically, this ACLU ad was not accepted. Contained There is nothing However, the First Amendment’s text is the one that will be used.

Post mentioned the precedent that was set in City of Shaker Heights v. LehmanThe Supreme Court upheld the ban on political advertisement and rejected the notion that buses cars were “a public forum” protected under the First Amendment. Post emphasizes that PETA’s ACLU complaint is a fresh twist to an old problem. Lehman case: viewpoint discrimination. 

Post asks the interesting question: “Why should PETA’s non-commercial message (“Don’t eat meat”) be banned while Burger King’s commercial message (“Eat more meat”) is permitted?”

He concluded, “To me, these definitely do seem like the type of ‘arbitrary capricious or invidious decision that even under a generous interpretation of LehmanWMATA, a state actor has to be avoided.” On March 18, 2018, the United States District Court for D.C. ruled against a preliminary injunction—requested by Yiannopoulos—WMATA banned, stating that it had “failed in its ability to prove a success rate on the merits any of its claims.”

Asher Smith hopes that the legal fight will establish precedent for PETA’s goal of protecting workers and animals as well as their families.