After weeks of debate, a divisive bus ad on Chapel Hill Transit buses is still causing controversy.
And now, with a Chapel Hill Town Council special meeting about the ads scheduled for Oct. 11, the American Civil Liberties Union has spoken out in defense of free speech.
In an open letter sent to Chapel Hill town officials Oct. 1, the ACLU said banning the advertisements would be a violation of free speech.
“The law says you cannot restrict speech in public forums because of its content, because of its viewpoint,” said Chris Brook, legal director of ACLU-North Carolina. “Any efforts to bar this would be unconstitutional.”
Brook said the ACLU was contacted by town residents who were concerned about a possible ban on political advertisements.
He said the residents believe banning bus ads would suppress open dialogue in Chapel Hill — a traditional value of the town.
“Chapel Hill has never rejected a proposed advertisement for their buses,” Brook said.
The ad features a Palestinian man and an Israeli man, both holding their grandchildren. The caption reads “Build peace with justice and equality. End U.S. military aid to Israel.”
The ad is sponsored by the Church of Reconciliation as part of the national “Be On Our Side” campaign, which argues that foreign aid to Israel is perpetuating the conflict between Israel and Palestine.