Focus on the Family files censorship suit

Says public agency violated free-speech rights by disallowing posters

WorldNetDaily/January 16, 2001
By Jon Dougherty

A prominent traditional-values organization has filed a lawsuit against a Pinellas County, Fla., public transportation company for refusing to allow the group to place posters in bus shelters promoting its conference on homosexuality and youth.

According to a statement released by Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based, Christian organization headed by Dr. James Dobson, the organization is seeking relief "on the grounds of viewpoint discrimination and violation of its First Amendment right to free speech."

Officials said the suit against the Suncoast Transit Authority was filed after Focus on the Family learned that its advertising campaign promoting a "Love Won Out" conference in Tampa, Fla., last February was being squelched. Posters promoting the conference with the words: "Love Won Out: Addressing, Understanding and Preventing Homosexuality," were refused by Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority officials for placement in the transportation company's bus shelters.

Focus officials said the transit authority "routinely places similar advertisements for other organizations" in its shelters, but allegedly claimed that its posters "were controversial and violated the [transit authority's] policy against ads with 'political content,'" the statement said.

"The notion that our conference message is 'political' is ludicrous," said Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy for Focus on the Family. "Our conference dares to tell people that gays can change. While this may not be culturally popular, it is certainly the truth."

Matthew D. Staver, president and chief counsel of Orlando, Fla.-based Liberty Counsel, a civil liberties legal defense group, is representing Focus on the Family in its suit. "We trust that the courts will rule on the side of justice and permit us to continue promoting our conference's message of hope and healing," said Minnery. "The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority should not be permitted to purposefully exclude us from the same privileges and promotional opportunities they offer to others, simply because they don't like what we say."

The transit authority was involved in another advertising controversy in early December. Then, PSTA officials pulled 10 buses off the road after local Scientology supporters criticized ads that debunked Scientology as a phony religion. The ads, PSTA officials said, violated PSTA Resolution 99-01, which says that "non-commercial advertisements that add an offer to purchase some item containing a non-commercial message are not permitted pursuant to this policy."

Ads that are "false" and "libelous," as well as those deemed "a clear and present danger of causing riot, disorder or other immediate threat to public safety, peace or order," are also not permitted.

The nonprofit Focus on the Family produces Dobson's internationally syndicated radio programs, which are heard daily on more than 2,900 stations in North America, and on approximately 1,300 facilities in over 70 other countries.

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