FORT WAYNE, Ind. — A prominent Christian legal organization has filed a lawsuit against an Indiana public transportation company for refusing to allow a health care referral service to place advertising cards in its buses because of its pro-life stance and associations.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) reports that it filed a federal lawsuit on Monday against Citilink of Fort Wayne after it denied the request of Women’s Health Link to advertise on city buses. Women’s Health Link is a free referral service that assists women needing physical, emotional, mental or spiritual health care.
The organization sought last fall to place advertising cards in the city buses, which simply stated, “You are not alone: Free resource for women seeking health care.” However, Citilink reportedly denied Women’s Health Link’s request twice because of its affiliation with Allen County Right to Life, and because the organization’s website discussed what it classified as “controversial issues,” presumably abortion.
“We feel that this ad does not educate the general public or raise awareness regarding a significant social issue in a viewpoint neutral manner,” Citilink’s response to Women’s Health Link stated. “We do not choose to post this ad as a PSA.”
Officials also explained that the organization’s connection to Allen County Right to life was “problematic because Right to Life has a particular preference as to how to deal with women’s health care needs, i.e., it promotes life-affirming alternatives to abortion.”
ADF states that the public transportation company has allowed other non-profit organizations to place promotional messages on the inside of the buses, such as Parkview Health, The Foundation for Fighting Blindness, and the United Way, and asserts that its denial to Women’s Health Link was unconstitutional.
In its complaint filed on Monday in federal court, ADF contended that Citilink’s advertising policies wrongfully give “officials unbridled discretion to accept or reject private expression protected by the First Amendment.” The Christian legal groups also outlined that the policies infringe Women’s Health Links’ “fundamental rights, including its right to freedom of speech and freedom of association.”
“In this case, the presumption of discriminatory intent is borne out by Citilink’s Policies and practice of intentionally discriminating against Plaintiff’s health-care-related speech because of Plaintiff’s association with Allen County Right to Life and the allegedly ‘controversial’ viewpoint expressed on its website,” it wrote. “Citilink lacks a rational or compelling state interest for treating
Plaintiff in such a disparate manner.”
“No one deserves to be silenced simply for having a viewpoint that city officials don’t favor,” Litigation Counsel Rory Gray wrote in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “When the city creates an opportunity for community advertising, it cannot single out pro-life organizations for censorship. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all people, regardless of their political or religious beliefs.”
ADF is seeking an injunction behalf of Women’s Health Link, as well as nominal damages and costs associated with the legal challenge.