LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A right to life group in Indiana has filed a legal challenge against a local bus company for rejecting a proposed advertisement showing the personhood and humanity of the unborn, stating that the ad violated its policies by expressing a “political viewpoint.”
According to the lawsuit filed on Monday in federal court, the Tippecanoe County Right to Life contacted CityBus last September to inquire about advertising options. The discussion progressed and Tippecanoe County Right to Life was provided with a contract to move forward. A representative provided the selected design and signed the contract.
The advertisement was comprised of three photos, two of which show ultrasounds of an unborn child with the words “me” and “me again” superimposed on each, followed by a photograph of a newborn that reads “still me.” The name Tippecanoe County Right to Life appears below the graphic, along with the web address for the organization. See the ad in full here.
Days later, CityBus emailed Tippecanoe County Right to Life to advised that “[p]ursuant to CityBus’ policies and procedures,” the advertisement was “reviewed by the development manager and general manager” and “is rejected as submitted” because “the proposed advertisement does not comply with CityBus’ guidelines.”
The company pointed to its policies, which state that “political campaign speech referring to a specific ballot question (other than candidates for office), initiative petition, referendum or political viewpoint” is prohibited.
The representative also highlighted policy language stating, “CityBus accepts advertising that meets all of the following criteria for political advertising for candidates for office: (1) No statement of political viewpoint, initiative petition, or referendum is made in the advertisement. … (4) Graphics contained in the advertisement do not imply a political viewpoint.”
However, Tippecanoe County Right to Life believes that the advertisement is strictly educational cannot be classified as a political advertisement.
During a meeting, representatives of CityBus reiterated that the ad communicated a political viewpoint, and if that particular advertisement was accepted, ads for the KKK would also have to be approved.
Tippecanoe County Right to Life consequently sought to understand exactly what type of advertisement would be acceptable, and offered to find sponsors so that the pro-life organization’s name would not be included in the design. After consulting with their attorneys, CityBus said that “Tippecanoe County Right to Life” would indeed need to be removed from the advertisement, as well as the words “me,” “me again,” and “still me.”
The group therefore decided not to run the advertisement at all as removing the wording would defeat its purpose of educating the public.
Finding it futile to push the matter any further, the organization obtained legal representation, and is now asking the courts to intervene. Tippecanoe County Right to Life notes that CityBus has advertised for political campaigns, as well as ads encouraging the reader to vote, to attend an event about “the healthcare crisis in Indiana,” and sign up for an EnviroWatts program that can help save the environment.
“CityBus has permitted ads encouraging people to ‘pump some democracy,’ ‘to file your free complaint of housing discrimination,’ to ‘help your neighbors in need,’ to ‘make the most of your future in the National Guard,’ to ‘promise to #ShopSmall in Greater Lafayette,’ and to quit smoking,” the legal complaint outlines.
“CityBus has also permitted ads indicating that ‘1 in 5 Indiana teenagers are abusing prescription drugs,’ that peoples’ ‘diabetes [go] unchecked’ without the ‘Healthy Indiana Plan,’ and that ‘prenatal care’ helps reduce infant deaths.”
The organization therefore believes that the rejection of their design is unjustifiable.
“CityBus applied its advertising policy in an arbitrary and unreasonable manner by denying TCRTL’s ad and allowing so many other comparable ads,” the legal challenge reads. “Given CityBus’s advertising policy and practice relating to accepting or rejecting
ads, CityBus lacks any legitimate basis to prohibit TCRTL’s ad.”
The organization is seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction against the denial, and a declaratory judgment that CityBus’ advertising policy is unconstitutional.