Vague Political Speech Restrictions on Government Property

Court Gavel

There’s a gun-related case in the Arizona Court of Appeals today that deals with overly vague content-based speech restrictions on government property. The Goldwater Institute and ACLU are siding with pro-Second Amendment folks who submitted various advertisements for the Phoenix mass transit system only to see some of them turned down on content restrictions against politically-related advertising and others with similar messages and links accepted.

It’s a case that isn’t just about considering federal First Amendment protections/restrictions on speech, but also may define the state’s constitutional limits on the freedom of speech. The ACLU has apparently argued that state courts have never ruled on the issue of content-based restrictions on government property or provided legal tests to determine when such regulations may be allowed.

The pro-speech/gun side is arguing that the rules are so vague and arbitrary that a reasonable person could not be expected to know when their advertisements may be approved or might be turned down. Attorneys for the city claim that if they can’t have these vague rules that apparently only city bureaucrats understand, then they will be forced into an “all-or-nothing approach — allow no advertising or allow all advertising.”

3 thoughts on “Vague Political Speech Restrictions on Government Property”

  1. I have not followed the subject closely at all, but I think there may be an analogy in, that I believe an urban (NYC?) transit system banned anti-Muslim messages from some anti-Islam organization(s), and courts said they couldn’t do it, on 1A “free speech” grounds.

    It may very well be true that in practical terms, they either have to accept (almost) everything, or nothing. The things they could ban would probably be limited to obscenity or overt incitement to violence. But for example, I could see a municipal system accepting religious messages, but only if it then accepted ALL religious messages.

  2. The problem here that we are mixing business and government. If this was a privately owned advertising space they could ban any ads they want. As soon as a government agency owns the advertising space they have no business banning anything. I am all for the all or nothing approach. It should not be the role of our government to be a business.

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