A hearing is scheduled for July 17 in a lawsuit filed by a pro-life organization that was turned down when it asked to run ads in Citilink buses in Fort Wayne.
Women's Health Link filed a lawsuit April 7 in the U.S. District Court of Northern Indiana against the Fort Wayne Public Transportation Corp., which does business as the Citilink public bus service.
A June 3 hearing was rescheduled for July 17 in U.S. District Court in South Bend. The two sides will argue about Women's Health Link's request for an injunction requiring Citilink to accept its ads as well as Citilink's request that the case be dismissed.
Women's Health Link defines its mission as “to walk with women through life to ensure they have life-affirming health care,” it says on the organization's website, www.womenshealthlink.org. The website says it is a free referral resource in Fort Wayne “for women seeking physical, emotional, spiritual or mental health care.”
Women's Health Link asked to put 11-inch-by-17-inch advertising cards inside Citilink buses that show a young woman, the organization's logo, website and telephone number. The ads also contained the line “You're Not Alone,” and the description, “You are not alone. Free resource for women seeking health care.”
Documents filed in the case state:
Women's Health Link alleges Citilink violated its First Amendment rights to freedom of speech by refusing to accept the ad, which later was described as a public-service announcement (PSA). It also alleged Citilink accepts similar PSAs from other nonprofits.
In a May 27 response to the lawsuit, Citilink says it followed its advertising policy, which was adopted March 10, 2011. That policy intends for Citilink buses and facilities to be nonpublic forums and that ads and PSAs shown on or in them should express “viewpoint-neutral” messages and “shall not express or advocate opinions or positions upon political, religious or moral issues.”
After reviewing the Women's Health Link website, Citilink alleges it determined the agency is a pro-life organization and the PSA therefore violated the bus service's ad policy. Citilink also alleges the PSA was misleading because it didn't tell people Women's Health Link is a pro-life organization.
In addition, Citilink argues Women's Health Link didn't file an appeal with the bus service after its PSA was refused. That failure to follow procedure should make the lawsuit void.
Women's Health Link filed a response alleging the bus service discriminated against it because of its pro-life viewpoint. It also alleges Citilink created a public forum by accepting advertising and PSAs for use on and in its buses; protecting free speech means any ads or PSAs refused must exceed a high threshold.
Women's Health Link asked for preliminary and permanent injunctions allowing it to place ads in Citilink buses. It also wants Citilink barred from using its ad policy to discriminate against people or groups seeking to advertise.