Constitutional Issues

Religious and/or Political Advertisements Run Afoul of Transit Company’s Advertising Policy

Chapel Hill Transit is the second largest transit system in North Carolina, serving as the public transportation provider for over 160 square miles of Chapel Hill, Carrboro and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  With that coverage, Chapel Hill Transit enjoys more than 7,000,000 annual passenger rides.

In light of those 7,000,000 annual passenger rides, a bus seems like a great place for captive advertising.  Not surprisingly, then, a religious group recently “purchased” the following advertisement.  The ad appeared briefly this month in a significant number of buses until its removal due, at least in part, to several rider complaints:

“Join with us. Build peace with justice and equality. End U.S. military aid to Israel.”

According to reports, the Town removed the signs because they violated the Transit policy governing advertising.  Specifically, it’s reported that the placards may have been removed because (1) the advertisements do not contain the church’s contact information, which is required of advertisements of a religious or political nature and/or (2) the advertisements are false, misleading or deceptive or intended to be disparaging or disrespectful to persons.

Interestingly, the policy is clear that, “By allowing limited types of advertising on or within its buses and or/bus shelters and providing limited space at no charge pursuant to this policy, Chapel Hill Transit does not intend to create a public forum for public discourse or expressive activity, or to provide a forum for all types of advertisements.”

A copy of the advertising policy can be found here.

We’ll be interested to see how the religious and political communities respond.

Mike Thelen is a lawyer in Womble, Carlyle’s Real Estate and Land Use Litigation practice group. He regularly represents a wide variety of clients, from local governments to businesses, in land use and land development matters in both state and federal venues throughout North Carolina.

Categories: Constitutional Issues

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