NAACP, ACLU File Lawsuit Against City of Philadelphia for Rejecting Criminal Justice Reform Ad

Refusal to Accept Ad Violates First Amendment Freedom of Speech

The NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit on October 19 against the City of Philadelphia for violating the First Amendment, after Philadelphia International Airport refused to accept an advertisement promoting criminal justice reform. The ad highlights America's high incarceration rate.

The city claimed that the ad had been rejected because it does not accept “issue” or “advocacy” advertisements at the airport. However, the airport has accepted numerous other ads relating to political and social issues.

Read the NAACP & ACLU complaint against the city of Philadelphia

Download the "Misplaced Priorities" Report

“The walls of Philadelphia International Airport are public space, and city officials do not have the right to suppress any group’s viewpoint based on their own beliefs or political considerations,” stated NAACP General Counsel Kim Keenan. “Our First Amendment right to free speech is just as strong as that of the U.S.O., the World Wildlife Federation or any other advocacy group that has graced the walls of the airport,” Keenan said, referring to ads from other organizations that the city accepted.

The NAACP's rejected advertising says, "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 ads are part of a public awareness campaign surrounding the NAACP’s “Misplaced Priorities” report, which explores the connection between high incarceration rates and poorly performing schools.

“The government cannot pick and choose which speech it deems acceptable and which it does not,” said Chris Hansen, senior staff attorney for the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “The fact that the airport accepted some political issue ads but not the NAACP's shows the arbitrary nature of the city's unwritten and undefined policy. It is a clear violation of the First Amendment's prohibition against the government favoring some speakers over others. ”

The report is part of the NAACP’s “Smart and Safe” campaign, an initiative designed to reform the nation’s criminal justice system. The report offers recommendations to help policymakers downsize prison populations and shift the savings to education budgets.

“We need to be ‘smart on crime’ rather than ‘tough on crime’ and address soaring incarceration rates in this country,” stated NAACP president and CEO Benjamin Jealous. “Failing schools, college tuition hikes and shrinking state education budgets are narrowing the promise of education for young people all across the country. Meanwhile, allocations for our incarceration system continue to increase, sending our youth the wrong message about the future.”