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Schnader Wins First Amendment Appeal in the Third Circuit

On September 23, 2019 by Schnader in News

On September 17, 2019 in the case of Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society v. County of Lackawanna Transit System, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the judgment of the District Court and held that the First Amendment prohibits the transit authority’s advertising policy which had excluded all advertisements referring to atheism or religion. Schnader represented the Freethought Society in this matter, both at trial and on appeal, in partnership with the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

The Freethought Society sought to advertise on public buses in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. Freethought proposed an ad displaying the word “Atheists” along with the group’s name and website. The County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) rejected the ad under its policy which excluded religious and atheistic messages.

Judge Hardiman wrote for the majority, holding that COLTS’ policy discriminated based on viewpoint by prohibiting religious and atheist speakers from advertising on any topic. Under the policy, for example, COLTS allowed advertisements for Geisinger Health System but rejected an ad from Lutheran Home Care and Hospice because of the religious reference in its name. The Court also ruled that the restriction on religious speech was not reasonably connected to the revenue-related purpose of the advertising program.

Schnader’s team working with the ACLU on this case included Theresa E. Loscalzo, Stephen J. Shapiro, Osazenoriuwa Ebose, Arleigh P. Helfer, Daniel P. Lawn, Timothy K. Lewis, Brittany C. Wakim, and paralegals Adrienne Horn and Barbara Schramm.