Metro has been hit with a free speech lawsuit brought by PETA challenging its advertising policy and alleged refusal to run animal rights ads on buses in Los Angeles.
According to PETA, Metro’s policy permits popcorn chicken ads from Jack in the Box, but refuses to allow “I’m Not Popcorn Chicken” spots from PETA.
The suit, filed in Los Angeles federal court late Monday against Metro and its CEO, Stephanie Wiggins, alleges violations of the vegan group’s First Amendment rights in 2019 and this year.
Attempts by City News Service to reach a Metro spokesperson outside of regular business hours were not immediately successful.
PETA’s lawsuit argues that Metro policy — which bars ads for noncommercial speech unless the ad is approved by a government agency — amounts to a prior restraint on speech and viewpoint discrimination, particularly since Metro has allowed other noncommercial ads, including one from United Way about ending homelessness.
“In the land of free speech, L.A. Metro can’t block PETA’s appeals not to eat birds while running fried chicken ads,” says Caitlin Hawks, a PETA Foundation attorney. “We’re pushing for the restoration of PETA’s First Amendment rights and the opportunity to encourage riders to save animals’ lives by going vegan.”
PETA claims that before trying to run its pro-chicken ad, it tried to place a “Wear Vegan” ad with Metro. Both ads feature nongraphic imagery and a simple, straightforward appeal to practice kindness to animals, the suit says.
PETA — whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to eat, wear, or abuse in any other way” — opposes speciesism, a “human-supremacist” outlook.
The first ad, which PETA wished to run on public transport two years ago, features a sheep and a message imploring readers to wear vegan clothes. The second ad proposed over the summer features a chicken and urges viewers to go vegan, and is in direct response to ads Metro had previously run promoting popcorn chicken ads from Jack in the Box, the lawsuit states.