Attorney General Jason Miyares (me-YAR-ez) joined 20 attorneys general in filing a brief opposing the Hillsborough County Florida transit authority’s policy denying the First Amendment rights of a religious group to advertise on public transportation.
“Our country was founded on the idea of religious freedom and the freedom of speech. The First Amendment is just that – the first – because it is absolutely critical to the American experiment. Government censorship of religious speech sends the message that religious expression is viewed as offensive and controversial, which is antithetical to the tradition of religious tolerance and the history of the United States,” said Attorney General Miyares.
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) lumps in ‘religious affiliation advertising’ with others forms of advertising it forbids: ads for ‘tobacco, alcohol, or related products’ and ads containing ‘profane language, obscene materials,’ ‘images of nudity,’ or ‘depiction[s] of graphic violence,’ among others. By treating them alike, HART sends the message that religious speech is too controversial and too dangerous for public discussion. This is in direct conflict with the First Amendment’s dual guarantee of the freedoms of speech and religious exercise.
The Supreme Court has ruled, multiple times, that blanket bans on religious messaging is viewpoint discrimination and unconstitutional. HART’s policy prevents Young Israel of Tampa to include a religious symbol on their advertising and is therefore unconstitutional.
Attorney General Miyares and the attorneys general from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah filed their brief September 14, 2022, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Judicial Circuit.
A copy of the attorneys general brief may be read here.