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Anti-Israel advertisement dispute continues with new AATA policy

By Stephanie Shenouda, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 9, 2013

No resolution was reached yesterday during a conference between the Ann Arbor Transit Authority and Ann Arbor resident Blaine Coleman in an endless battle over AATA’s decision not to post Coleman’s advertisement featuring anti-Israeli sentiments on their buses.

The two-year-old case continues as both parties were asked to submit supplemental briefs before U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith makes his decision, possibly in the next few weeks.

In January of 2011, Coleman purchased advertisement space on the side of an Ann Arbor bus. The ad had many images of skulls accompanied by the words “Boycott Israel”. The AATA rejected the advertisement, asserting that the advertisement violated two provisions of its policy: that the advertisement be in “good taste” and that it “not contain any scorn or ridicule”.

However, in September 2012 Goldsmith ruled that AATA’s advertising policy was unconstitutional. Coleman, however, sought further relief, arguing that his first amendment right to free speech guaranteed him the right to purchase the advertisement.

After revising its policy and revisiting the advertisement earlier this month, the AATA upheld its decision not to run it. Again, noting it ridiculed an individual or group and was in violation of their advertising standards.

“We felt like the ad was demeaning and offensive of a certain group and was outside our standards as the AATA,” AATA Chairman Charles Griffith said in an interview. “We reserve the right to reject advertisements that are outside our standards and stand by our decision.”

Griffith clarified that the reasons for banning the advertisement are still “valid” within the AATA’s new policy and does not expect the AATA to change their views on this matter. He added that a similar case in the sixth district court recently ruled in favor of a company denying an individual’s advertisement in a similar conflict.

However, Daniel Korobkin, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union — which is representing Coleman — said that the AATA reasoning continues to deny the advertisement was deemed unconstitutional by the court.

Though time has passed in this process, Korobkin and his client maintain that the advertisement is still politically relevant.

Korobkin, who spoke on his client’s behalf, said Coleman’s first amendment rights have been infringed upon.

Korobkin said if the court orders the AATA to permit the advertisement, he anticipates cooperation, though there is the possibility of appeal. He also added that the decision to change their policy skirts “the real issue,” which is the infringement of Coleman’s constitutional right to free speech.

“There hasn’t been a final resolution,” Korobkin said. “We got them to change their policy, so that was certainly a victory for the first amendment, but now we need a remedy, which we obviously believe is running the ad.”