Free Speech

PETA Sues for Its Free Speech Rights, Again

The Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland won't let the animal rights group advertise on public buses.


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is known for some wacky campaigns—from suggesting swapping "bring home the bacon" for "bring home the bagels," to condemning former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R–N.J.) for swatting a spider, and even asking Ben & Jerry's to use human breast milk in place of cow's milk. But the ad campaign that PETA wasn't allowed to run on a Maryland bus system was tamer than all of those, and a federal judge ruled last week that PETA can continue its legal fight over the ad rejection.  

On January 18, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland rejected a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by PETA against public transit provider Shore Transit. Filed on August 17, the lawsuit contends that the Tri-County Council for the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland, Shore Transit, and their director Brad Bellacicco violated PETA's First and 14th Amendment rights by denying two ads. 

In May 2020, PETA attempted to run ads on the interior of Shore Transit's buses (see below). The phrase, "No One Needs to Kill to Eat. Close the slaughterhouses: Save the workers, their families, and the animals," is paired with images that are not overtly graphic. However, PETA's application was denied by Shore Transit, which claimed the ads were "too offensive for [its] market and political in nature."

The transit company's policy prohibits "political," "offensive," and "controversial" ads, but PETA argues that their advertising doesn't fall into any of those restricted categories. They view "animal slaughter as offensive, controversial, objectionable, and in poor taste." To PETA, "No one needs to kill to eat" is a fact. 

The Court denied the motion to dismiss the case last week, saying, "While the Court is certainly sympathetic that Defendants may have an interest in limiting graphic or gory imagery on its buses, the manner in which Defendants allegedly have done so appears to be neither viewpoint neutral nor reasonable." 

PETA—represented by Brian Hauss of the American Civil Liberties Union and Robin Cockey of Cockey, Brennan & Maloney—argues that buses should be considered a "designated public forum or, in the alternative, a limited public forum," and therefore, prohibiting the ads is violating the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

"The policy's sweeping prohibitions afford enforcement officials unfettered discretion," the lawsuit reads. PETA contends that the policy is "also incapable of reasoned application, content and viewpoint discriminatory, substantially overbroad, and unconstitutionally vague."

PETA also argues that Shore Transit's restrictions are "impermissibly vague," which violates the Due Process Clause under the 14th Amendment. PETA contends that they should be provided, "adequate notice about what speech is prohibited and invite arbitrary or selective enforcement."  

Asher Smith, Director of Litigation for PETA, is heartened by the court's recent decision to move forward with the case. He says, "By green-lighting PETA's lawsuit, the court struck a blow to Shore Transit's policy that gives officials unconstrained power to censor what the public sees and furthered the rule of free speech."

This is not the activism group's first day in court. Their advertising has been banned from Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles transit systems, as well as Texas A&M's transit system—a policy which Texas A&M later admitted violated PETA's rights. 

In 2017, David Post covered the Washington, D.C., lawsuit for The Volokh Conspiracy in which the ACLU represented PETA, Milo Yiannopoulos, abortion provider Carafem, and their own organization—all of which had ads rejected by WMATA. The PETA ads in question urged readers to "Go Vegan" and "De-Calf your coffee." Ironically, the rejected ACLU ad contained nothing but the text of the First Amendment.

Post pointed to the precedent set in Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights, in which the Supreme Court upheld a ban on political advertising and rejected the idea that bus cars are "a public forum protected by the First Amendment." But, Post points out how the ACLU's most recent complaint on behalf of PETA introduces a new wrinkle not seen in the Lehman case: viewpoint discrimination. 

Post poses an interesting question, "Why should PETA's non-commercial message ('Don't eat meat') be prohibited while Burger King's commercial message ('Eat more meat') is allowed?"

He concludes, "To my eye, these certainly do look like the kind of 'arbitrary, capricious, or invidious' decisions that, even under a generous reading of Lehman, WMATA, a state actor, has to steer clear of." In March 2018, the United States District Court for D.C. ruled against a preliminary injunction—requested by Yiannopoulos—on WMATA's ban, stating that the case "failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of any of its claims."

Asher Smith is hopeful the upcoming legal battle will set precedent that drives PETA's mission of "protecting animals, workers, workers' families, and the entire community by keeping animals off our plates" home. 

NEXT: The Gretchen Whitmer Kidnapping Plot Looks an Awful Lot Like Entrapment

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  1. "PETA Sues for Its Free Speech Rights, Again"

    PETA does this for the headlines.

    They once sued the California Dairy Board for false advertising because the ad said, "Good milk comes from happy cows, and happy cows come from California". They claimed that the cows of California aren't really happy, but that wasn't the real issue. The real issue is that by suing, PETA was able to get their name in the headlines, and when they generate that kind of news coverage, it's like advertising for donors without having to pay for the advertising.

    So, I have a couple of suggestions:

    1) Maybe Reason should sue people for the sake of getting the New York Times and others to give Reason free advertising.

    2) If PETA wants to advertise on Reason, don't give it away for free with your coverage. Make them pay for advertising on Reason like everyone else.

    1. "The real issue is that by suing, PETA was able to get their name in the headlines, and when they generate that kind of news coverage, it's like advertising for donors without having to pay for the advertising."

      You know who else generated free advertising for himself by making outrageous statements for the benefit of the news media?!

      1. Richard Simmons?

        1. donde esta Ricardo Simmons?

          1. Con Carmen Sandiego…o con Carmelo Sandiego.

      2. Ralph Nader?

      3. Antonio Damasio? No, probably not.

      4. Kanye West?

    2. This _particular_ case does offer some potential amusement value. If PETA wins, we'll get to laugh at whatever ridiculous contortions the judge comes up with for why PETA can run their ads but the NRA can't.

      1. This is the problem state agencies get into when they accept advertising to help with their bottom line. You either have to allow everything, or you set some boundaries.

        Ie, Make America Great Again painted down the middle of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, protected by cops or...

    3. it's like advertising for donors without having to pay for the advertising.

      They did pay for the advertising. Unless that lawsuit they filed was free.

      1. That's a steep discount compared to paying for national advertising.

    4. People

      1. Lemme guess. You have the Trademark on that. Everybody who says that acts like they do.

        Nowadays, it's: People Enjoying Transplant Animals.

  2. PETA should just build their own bus company.

    1. And roads!

      1. Better yet, governments should sell off their buses to competitive Free-Market businesses and let them decide what to advertise on their buses, if anything at all.

    2. They already have through their taxes if the bus company is government owned.

  3. People

      1. I gotta say, as someone who can watch carnivores tear their prey apart and eat it while enjoying a meal, slaughter pretty much any animal without breaking a sweat, and wound or otherwise use animals for bait, killing thousands of pets under the name of 'ethical treatment' and 'humane society' is some pretty cold shit. Even if you told every last one of them "We're going to euthanize your animal." up front, advertising the process as 'humane' or 'ethical' would still bug me.

        1. Killing animals to eat them is a much more valid reason, when compared to PETA's position of:

          "Well, we don't believe in pet ownership, we think domestication is a form of abuse, and these animals can't be returned to the wild, so it's murder time."

          1. PETA is opposed to civilization itself.

    1. Have a t-shirt that says that. Got it for free from Pepper Palace when I bought a bunch of hot sauce.

    2. Ha! You beat me to it.

      1. You and Ch7kby may have a rqce to court to see who can sue whom for Trademark infringement. 😉

        1. Chumby, that is. My fingers can't aim anymore.

    3. Again, Bullwinkle?

  4. Post poses an interesting question, "Why should PETA's non-commercial message ('Don't eat meat') be prohibited while Burger King's commercial message ('Eat more meat') is allowed?"

    "PETA doesn't want you to eat this Whopper."
    "PETA thinks you don't need to kill to eat meat, our customers think our (Impossible) Whopper is to die for."
    "Sometimes you've got to julienne a few potatoes to make side of BK fries."
    "PETA thinks eating meat is a sin. We understand how flame broiling could give that impression."

    Seriously, Posts' question would be interesting if PETA were offering a competitive service or product or even *any* service or product, but they aren't. To look past it to make the equivocation is willful stupidity.

    1. Per Post's stupid argument. Start a fucking restaurant and advertise your vegan shit on the bus or even give money to the 'JUST' food people who already make 'food' to advertise.

  5. Why would Chris Christie swat a spider? What an ass! Doesn't he know they eat flies and roaches? Anyway, PETA is an often annoying mixed bag, and this is coming from a nearly lifelong vegetarian, but in this case I say, "Go PETA!" (And , "Go ACLU!", another mixed bag, of which I'm a member.)

    If Shore Transit was a privately owned company, I'd have no problem with their censorship, but it's not, so I do.

    1. Maybe the spider found a big, tasty spread in the case of Chris Christie.

  6. So do they really believe that the carrot, onion, etc. that they eat actually survives digestion? I suppose it could but maybe they should chew more, they'll be healthier. Well slightly, with such a short digestive tract humans aren't anywhere near optimized to eat just vegetation.

    1. Not to argue for vegetarianism, but "short" digestive tract? We humans have 20 or 30 feet of small intestine and miles of blood vessels inside of us to absorb and carry nutrition.

      I'd say that's pretty fact long enough for both well-done steak (Hi, Sarcasmic!) and edamame beans (Hi, Paul Joseph Watson!)

      1. We have almost no cecum, unlike any herbivore (who almost universally have extremely large cecums). Even for an omnivore we have pretty small cecum. Both bears and pigs (other large omnivores) have fairly large cecums, ours is near non existent.

        1. TangoDelta was talking about the length of the digestive tract and I pointed out where it is long. Yes, we humans have a little cecum, but, in most cases, most of us still get done what we need to get done, so it must not be too bad for omnivores. (Again, I wasn't arguing for vegetarianism.)

          All of this reminds me of the funny H.L. Mencken quote: "Progress is the process whereby the human race is getting rid of whiskers, the veriform appendix and God." 🙂

    2. Was going to post that outside of photosynthetic organisms, all organisms require the consumption of other organisms to get vital nutrients. Does PETA think plants aren't alive? Or do they think we are capable of photosynthesis?
      Makes me suspect PETA doesn't have any biologist working for it.

  7. "So do they really believe that the carrot, onion, etc. that they eat actually survives digestion? "

    Tomato seeds survive digestion. Perennial plants will continue to live as long as the roots are OK.

    "Well slightly, with such a short digestive tract humans aren't anywhere near optimized to eat just vegetation."

    Look on the bright side. From the perspective of the eaten vegetation, a short digestive tract is the way to go, Who the hell wants to get stuck in the 60 foot tract of an African elephant's stinky ass?

  8. Swapping "bring home the bacon" for "bring home the bagels" is, of course, racial collectivism on a level with banning interstate movement of pugilism movies and passing the Mann Act. The main effect of both laws was to use the Political State to bully Jack Johnson for pounding the smug grins off of dry, pious, Aryan whitey champeens. But why does PETA bring to mind 1974 National Lampoon parodies of Penthouse?

    1. A worse example of racist collectivism by PETA was when PETA equated pet ownership with African slavery and killing chickens with The Holocaust.

  9. Sorry PETA, death is necessary for life.

  10. What about right not to be subjected to others' speech? Can I write my opinion of their message on their message?

  11. "Why should PETA's non-commercial message ('Don't eat meat') be prohibited while Burger King's commercial message ('Eat more meat') is allowed?"

    From a political standpoint: Burger King's message is not political, because eating meat is not a political issue. However PETA is trying to make eating meat into a political issue, so its speech is indeed political. But PETA's attempt to politicize eating meat does not make that matter political speech for Burger King.

    1. PETA is probably arguing that their advertising aims to change individual behavior rather than advocating laws against meat eating. It's "non-political" nearly everywhere as long as 90% of voters would be against it nearly everywhere - but anywhere they see a chance of banning some kind of meat farming, they'll show you how much they prefer coercion to individual choice.

  12. collagen material Biomaterials can be classified into two main groups: synthetic and natural biomaterials. The latter exhibit several advantages over the former, such as biocompatibility, inherent biodegradability, remodeling and critical biological functions.

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