Calls To Remove Washington Metro Ad Violate First Amendment Rights

Freedom of speech is one of the most valued aspects of our Bill of Rights, but should that right be upheld when it is being used to disrespect of our nation’s president? Representative Jim Moran (D-Va.) has asked Washington, D.C, Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to take down an ad sponsored by Logan Darrow Clements, in attempts to promote his new documentary, Sick & Sicker. The documentary is about Obama’s Canadian-style health care plan. The advertisement, which says, “Go to hell Barack,” is blatantly disrespectful. I cannot agree that it is correct for Moran to ask WMATA to do such a thing when it is clearly a matter of free speech.

The ad in question is not very tasteful, but if they were to remove it they would be denying the rights of citizens, WMATA would be acting unconstitutionally. WMATA issued a statement claiming that they must protect First Amendment rights and that the “ads do not reflect the position of the Authority,” which is the correct way to approach the matter. Moran still does not agree with this because the advertisement is in “tax-payer funded facilities” and profanity should not be in such a public place. This is a valiant effort by Moran, but it is not enough of an argument to take down the advertisement.

WMATA issued a statement saying, “WMATA advertising has been ruled by the courts as a public forum protected by the First Amendment, and we may not decline ads based on their political content.” It is not a matter of disrespect for WMATA, but more a matter of what is constitutional. There is no doubt that the advertisement makes a pretty harsh statement. The full ad reads, “Barack Obama wants politicians and bureaucrats to control America’s entire medical system. Go to hell Barack.” The ad is uncalled for, it is completely unnecessary, and it is enough to make any person stop to take a second look. This does not mean that it needs to be taken down.

This issue may be so pertinent because of the current controversy with Super PACs. After the 2010 ruling by the Supreme Court, Super PACs have become some of the largest contributors to political campaigns. The ruling allows PACs to contribute to campaigns as long as they are not approached directly, or speak directly to candidates. One of their most effective ways of contributing is by buying ads to slam opponents to the candidate they are backing. The Supreme Court’s ruling decided that corporations, non-profits, and unions could spend on political expenditures. This ruling upholds the First Amendment’s freedom of speech for PACs, and also sounds a lot like the issue Moran is having with WMATA.

The advertisement should come down, not because of it being unconstitutional, but because it is a disrespect to our nation’s president. We, as a nation, should come together and hope for the best for Obama. By putting up harsh advertisement like these, it shows how deep a divide there is amongst party lines. However, it will most likely not come down, because as WMATA has stated, it is a public forum and the First Amendment covers the advertisement. It is a constitutional right that cannot and should not be toyed with.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Belinda Moreira

Belinda is a Teach for America 2013 Corp Member and 10th grade English teacher in the DC Region. She is a graduate of Georgetown University. She also has a particular interest for education policy, and is originally from Houston, TX.

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