NEWARK - (CN) - An anti-abortion group claims CBS Outdoor violated the First Amendment by refusing to display its ad on two billboards in northern New Jersey.
"CBS permits a wide variety of commercial, noncommercial, public-service, public-issue, political, and religious advertisements on its billboards," including ads from atheists, The Life Education Counsel claims in its federal complaint.
The group cites an ad that states, "A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?"
They add that CBS "permitted the display of Georgia Right to Life billboards on several major highways in Atlanta" bearing the sentence "Black Children are an endangered species."
But CBS told the plaintiffs that "CBS did not approve LEC's art work due to its 'issue oriented message'" and asked it to consider "changing 'Abortion kills babies' to something like 'Life Education Counsel can help,'" according to the complaint. The group says CBS employee Diane Curry told it in a phone call "that CBS did not approve LEC's art work due to its 'issue oriented message' because some people don't believe 'abortion kills babies.' Diane Curry advised that she agreed with LEC's message but CBS does not allow 'issue oriented messages.'"
This phone call came on Nov. 1, 2010, but the group said it had sent a signed agreement to CBS Outdoor in October, with an $1,100 check, which was cashed.
The Counsel says it responded by offering "Abortion Stops a Beating Heart" as an alternative, but CBS "indicated there was still a problem," and that the artwork would be approved only if a picture of a baby was cut from the ad.
This time CBS said that the picture needed to go because abortion "is a potentially emotional topic that might be unduly disturbing to young women who may have made the kinds of choices that the displays deal with," according to the complaint.
A message from the company to Counsel board member Betty LaRosa stated that CBS could not accept "images which might be deemed shocking, unsettling or even manipulative," the complaint states.
LaRosa says she protested and "emphasized that CBS's censorship was diluting and effectively changing her message."
CBS "insisted that if LEC would just get rid of the baby picture, the advertisement may run," the plaintiffs says.
"Defendants gave plaintiffs no choice," the group says, so they sued CBS Outdoor and CBS CEO Wally Kelly, alleging free speech and equal protection violations.
They seek an injunction, $7,500 for donations allegedly lost from the refusal to run the ad, two year-long billboard ads on CBS' dime and nominal damages.
They are represented by Jennifer Jack of South Toms River, N.J.