Ad flap won't quit

October 29, 2012 

Talk about a bus wreck. The Chapel Hill Town Council, under a new policy that allows ads on Chapel Hill Transit buses, has taken a fender-bender and turned it into a head-on collision.

To review: In recent weeks a print ad, with mild language but perceived by some as strongly anti-Israel, has been up and running in local buses. This was, supposedly, allowed by a year-old policy allowing bus ads. The ad, advocating an end to military aid to Israel, caused no end of controversy, but that was just the start. Now a proposed ad taking an opposing view (and then some) is vying to board the buses too. What’s an oh-so-sensitive Town Council to do?

If that weren’t enough, town officials last week discovered to their embarrassment that, under the bus-ad ordinance they’d actually passed last year, no political or religion-themed ads need apply. Oops!

If that stance is constitutional – if – it’s a mighty convenient out at this point. But banning all potentially objectionable ads doesn’t say much for protecting freedom of speech in a university town that, you’d think, might welcome it, and even be unsurprised that asserting a constitutional right can be controversial.

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