COLTS files motion to dismiss lawsuit

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The County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) has filed a motion to dismiss the April 2015 lawsuit previously mentioned on this page.

From April:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit today against the County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) over its refusal to allow a local atheist group, the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society, to advertise on its buses. The lawsuit argues that the transit system violated NEPA Freethought Society’s free speech rights by rejecting its ads because of the group’s views.

See below documents concerning the motion to dismiss. I offer no commentary at this time. My legal team should soon offer a response which shall be linked on this website.

2015-06-25 COLTS brief ISO motion to dismiss (1)

2015-06-25 COLTS motion to dismiss (1)

ACLU Files Free Speech Lawsuit Against County of Lackawanna Transit System

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ACLU Files Free Speech Lawsuit Against County of Lackawanna Transit System

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 28, 2015

CONTACT: Sara Mullen, ACLU of Pennsylvania, 215-592-1513 x122, smullen@aclupa.org

PHILADELPHIA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit today against the County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) over its refusal to allow a local atheist group, the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society, to advertise on its buses. The lawsuit argues that the transit system violated NEPA Freethought Society’s free speech rights by rejecting its ads because of the group’s views.

Since 2012, the NEPA Freethought Society has tried unsuccessfully to run various ads on COLTS buses. The rejected ads simply say “atheists” along with the group’s name and/or website. COLTS first turned down one of these ads under a policy that gave COLTS discretion to reject ads it deemed “controversial” or that would spark debate or discussion of public issues. In commenting on the rejection, COLTS’ solicitors said that COLTS did not accept any ads “promoting” or “attacking” religion or ads intended to spark public debate. However, according to the complaint, for at least ten years before NEPA Freethought Society tried to advertise, COLTS never rejected a single ad. COLTS has run ads from religious organizations, a political candidate, and a blog with links to anti-Jewish websites. COLTS also displayed the message “God Bless America” on the front of one bus for years.

In September 2013, COLTS again rejected the society’s proposed “atheists” ad, explaining that COLTS believed the ad would “offend or alienate” some of COLTS’ riders, causing COLTS to lose money. Eight days after rejecting the ad, COLTS adopted a new advertising policy that explicitly banned ads that “promote the existence or non-existence of a supreme deity” or address religion.

In 2014, COLTS finally accepted a version of the NEPA Freethought Society’s ad after it removed the word “atheists.”

“It’s hard to advertise effectively if we’re not allowed to use the word ‘atheists’ to say who the NEPA Freethought Society’s members are or who we’re trying to reach,” said Justin Vacula, organizer and spokesperson for the NEPA Freethought Society. “We just want to be treated fairly and allowed the same opportunity to advertise that COLTS has given other groups for years.”

According to the complaint, COLTS’ decision to ban all religious ads and begin enforcing its advertising policy was motivated by its dislike for NEPA Freethought Society’s beliefs.

“The First Amendment means that government officials can’t censor speech just because it’s unpopular or because they disagree with the speaker,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Once you open up a space for speech, you have to let everyone in equally.”

The NEPA Freethought Society is represented by Mary Catherine Roper and Molly Tack-Hooper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Theresa E. Loscalzo, Stephen J. Shapiro, and Monica Clarke Platt of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.

More information about the case, including a copy of the complaint, is available at: www.aclupa.org/COLTS

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Media:

Friendly Atheist relinked at RichardDawkins.net

Associated Press story featured on CNBCPhilly.com, The Washington Times, Reading Eagle, and other sources

The Times Leader (updated since original posting)

Scranton Times-Tribune (updated since original posting)

The LuLac Political Letter

Religion Clause

The Christian Post

Dispatches From The Culture Wars [archived screenshot]

Background Probability

The Washington Post

Christian News

Metro

 

NEPA Freethought Society bus ad fundraiser success

NEPA Freethought Society advertisement, including disclaimer, to appear on COLTS bus
NEPA Freethought Society advertisement, including disclaimer, to appear on COLTS bus

The NEPA Freethought Society fundraiser to place a bus advertisement in Scranton, PA is a success!

Thanks to supporters who helped make the NEPA Freethought Society fundraiser to place a bus advertisement in Scranton, Pennsylvania a success. The ‘soft’ fundraiser goal of $235 was surpassed – the fundraiser reached $292 which will allow for payment of fundraising fees and a small contribution to the NEPA Freethought Society for future expenses including subscription fees for meetup.com.

This month, the NEPA Freethought Society advertisement is scheduled to appear on a County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) bus. Updates, including photographs of the advertisement, shall be posted here. Thanks again for the support!

Learn more about the NEPA Freethought Society on its meetup.com website.

The NEPA (Northeastern Pennsylvania) Freethought Society is a social, educational, activist, and philosophical coalition of atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists, and skeptics predicated on support and community which upholds the separation of church and state and promotes critical thinking.

As always, feel free to comment below.

NEPA Freethought Society bus ad in The Times-Tribune

NEPA Freethought Society advertisement, including disclaimer, to appear on COLTS bus
NEPA Freethought Society advertisement, including disclaimer, to appear on COLTS bus

The Scranton-based The Times-Tribune published an article concerning the upcoming NEPA Freethought Society bus advertisement.

Today, David Singleton, staff writer for the Scranton-based newspaper The Times-Tribune, published an article titled “Atheist group’s ad to appear on COLTS bus” which is available in print and online.

Last week, I spoke with Singleton concerning the upcoming NEPA Freethought Society advertisement which will soon be displayed on a County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) bus. We also spoke about the fundraiser I launched help make the advertisement a reality.

COLTS spokeswoman says that the advertisement is expected to appear this week. COLTS’ solicitor calls the advertisement “pretty content neutral.”

The final advertisement design, pictured above, has an added disclaimer on the bottom-right corner — placed by COLTS in line with its newest advertising policy — stating “The Views And/Or Opinions Expressed By The Advertiser Are Not Necessarily Those Of COLTS.”

View the online article and read the fundraiser for more information including prior attempts at advertising on COLTS’ buses. Consider visiting the NEPA Freethought Society’s website especially if you live in Northeastern Pennsylvania and are interested in meeting local freethinkers.

More updates, including pictures of the ad displayed on a bus, are to come.

As always, feel free to comment below.

‘Soft’ fundraiser goal reached!

The NEPA Freethought Society bus advertisement fundraiser has reached its ‘soft’ goal in just five days!

On September 11, I launched an Indiegogo campaign to help fund a bus advertisement to help promote the NEPA Freethought Society – a local secular group I represent. Today, the soft goal — the minimum amount — of $230 was reached so the advertisement will now be displayed on a County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) bus as planned. Additional funds raised will account for Indiegogo fundraising fees and benefit the NEPA Freethought Society.

Thanks to Hemant Mehta for writing about the fundraiser and drawing awareness to it. Thanks to everyone who shared and donated including Becky Alvarez, darrel619, andrewbfox, cathymelt, JMalbertKY, Richard Wade, ja.kb.ca, sphynx01, chris.rondeau, rownik, dbuffingtonvt, philipsipos, and anonymous contributors. Support is very much appreciated. Stay tuned for updates.