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Posted on Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 6:30 p.m.

AATA revises unconstitutional advertising policy but says anti-Israel ads still won't be allowed

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority's board of directors held a special meeting Thursday to revise the agency's advertising policy after a federal judge declared parts of it unconstitutional.

But the agency maintains an anti-Israel advertisement calling for a boycott of Israel — what originally prompted a legal debate over the agency's policy — still won't be allowed on its buses.

"Our view is that we are clarifying our policy to remove the language which the judge found was too vague, but we think our policy already contained the language necessary for denying the ad, and that's the way we still prefer," said AATA Board Chairman Charles Griffith.


Blaine Coleman's rejected Boycott Israel ad.

The AATA's decision last year not to run the anti-Israel ads, which Ann Arbor resident Blaine Coleman wanted to place on AATA buses, sparked a lawsuit against the agency brought on Coleman's behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union. Coleman submitted ads to the AATA that showed skulls and bones accompanied by the phrases "Boycott Israel" and "Boycott Apartheid."

A federal judge ruled in favor of the ACLU and Coleman in September, arguing the AATA's advertising policy was vague and unconstitutional. The judge opined the First Amendment overpowers the AATA's discretion to run only ads it considers in "good taste."

Before adopting the revised advertising policy, which was reviewed by the board's legal counsel, AATA officials met in closed session Thursday to discuss the legal implications.

The approved revisions change the standards for what kinds of advertising the AATA will accept on its public buses, shelters, informational materials, buildings and benches.

The revised policy strikes a sentence that had stated all advertising must be considered in "good taste" and must uphold the "aesthetic standards" as determined by the AATA.

The board also rewrote portions of the policy that previously stated the AATA wouldn't accept any ads that support or oppose political candidates and ballot proposals or ads that contain material that is obscene or sexually explicit as defined under state law.

The reworded policy now prohibits any advertising that "contains political or political campaign advertising" or "contains advertising that is obscene or pornographic, or in advocacy of imminent lawlessness or violent action." The stated purpose of the prohibitions is to minimize the chances of abuse, the appearance of favoritism and the risk of imposing upon a captive audience.

Griffith said he looks forward to hearing what the judge thinks about the policy change. The parties are due back in court on Dec. 6.

"We think by complying with what he found to be objectionable in our policy, he will hopefully uphold our decision to deny that ad," Griffith said.

The ACLU has argued that a governmental entity cannot censor speech just because it is controversial, unpopular or stirs people's emotions.

Dan Korobkin, a staff attorney for the ACLU who represented Coleman, issued a statement on Thursday saying it's certainly appropriate for AATA to change its advertising policy given that a federal court has ruled that parts of it are unconstitutional.

"AATA should still place Mr. Coleman's ad because he submitted his ad almost two years ago, before any policy changes took place," he added. "While Mr. Coleman's ad is controversial and some people may find it offensive, he has a constitutional right to express his views just like everyone else."

Coleman is among a group of protesters who regularly stage public demonstrations in Ann Arbor, including at City Council meetings, calling for a boycott of Israel because of actions taken by the Israeli military. Coleman referred all comments to the ACLU on Thursday.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


Nate R.

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 8:25 p.m.

If blocking this ad was unconstitutional, it seems that slightly changing the rules to silence speech would be equally wrong regardless of the topic. Additionally, would these revised guidelines prohibit one of the first AATA ad campaigns I can remember, the red "There's no excuse for violence against women" ?

Ron Granger

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 4:43 p.m.

@GoBlueHockey: "You want to pay to advertise a boycott? -- Fine; But to integrate into the ad disturbing images of bones, skulls and falsified slander? That is not free speech; like yelling "Fire!" in the theater." They already allow disturbing images of bones and skulls with the advertisements that feature dissected corpses - the Bodies Exhibit. So I don't think an exclusion based on those elements would be valid. As to the claim of slander, there is little, if any, dispute that Israel has deployed an Occupying army for many years. I don't think anyone would dispute that they have blocades around the Palestinians, and control the borders. Recent reports document the long-term lack of food and malnourishment of children. The International Court's definition of arpartheid ( ) says that it is "committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime." A strong case can be made that conditions meet that definition. Please explain the slander.


Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 3:39 a.m.

The "open air" prisons exist because foreigners refuse to leave Israeli soil and none of their Arab "brothers" want them. A simple solution to the problem would be for the Jordanian, Syrian, and Egyptian governments to allow their expatriates to return to their home country sans the houses they once lived in.

Ron Granger

Sat, Dec 1, 2012 : 10:21 p.m.

GBH, you make some good points. But your suggestion that this is just israel putting up fences defies belief. Settlement expansions are not the defensive use of fences. Policies that starve children and keep the palestinian economy intentionally on the brink of collapse are not defensive use of fences. Etc. Your not liking the campaign is not a valid reason to deny the right to speech. Free speech is often uncomfortable.

Macabre Sunset

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 8:31 p.m.

What's interesting is that people like Coleman throw around the term "apartheid" without any understanding that the regimes they admire in the region actually have that goal written into their constitutions. Israel is criticized for putting up fences and using its power to protect its citizens. Its opponents, which seek to "drive every Jewish man, woman and child into the sea" are somehow noble, oppressed people. This conflict ends the minute the Arab world recognizes that Jewish people have a right to live, too.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 7:23 p.m.

Ron: It's about the context. Those bones & skulls in the ads for the Bodies Exhibit, being a museum display, are factual and educational/scientific in nature. Those in the ad on the other hand have a mean and hateful context. I don't want my child to see such ad that gets him upset and stresses -- portraying his family as mean and ugly skeletons, the head of spiders. You really don't see the difference? These are hate-inducing images. Like another person pointed above -- this is the same tactics used by Nazi "Dr. Goebbels and his minions." As to the slander: what's going on in Israel is not apartheid. We can discuss this forever and I feel that we might as well at this point agree to disagree. However, although de-facto the Palestinians are separated and treated differently than Israelies -- it is NOT "with the intention of maintaining that regime"; it is because otherwise they will explode themselves in the Israeli cities. These blockades did not exist until suicide bombing became a middle-east fashion. Prior to that Palestinians moved and worked freely throughout Israel. Bottom line: there are *many* things I do not like about the Israeli politics and Israeli politicians; especially the current leadership. But mean, nasty boycott campaign that paints a whole country with ugly images is not the way to handle it. I think that while we agree to disagree, we can also agree that the solution, whatever it may be, is far more complicated than many people here would like us to believe.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 4:42 p.m.

Good job AATA!

Billy Bob Schwartz

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 4:31 p.m.

"contains advertising that is obscene " If this ad isn't obscene, what is? Look up the word. It's a perfect fit. Reminds me a bit of Dr. Goebbels and his minions. I especially love the quotation marks around Israel. Hey, folks, it's a country, recognized by the rest of the world as such. Give it up. I have no problem with "Palestinians," but surely they are not quotations, are they?


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 4:11 p.m.

Do you think AATA will allow me to purchase ad space on their buses that is critical of their Biodiesel buses?


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 4:05 p.m.

Can't wait for this case to be settled and a clear policy put in place… Because I've got a few ads critical of Children, Puppies, Soccer, Ice Hockey and People Who Drive Toyota Prius's that I want to submit to AATA.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 3:39 p.m.

I suggest boycotting ignorance


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 3:34 p.m.

RE (ACLU statement): "While Mr. Coleman's ad is controversial and some people may find it offensive, he has a constitutional right to express his views just like everyone else." –– This begs the question of accuracy and honesty - can I place an ad about Ann Arbor falsely claiming the city should be boycotted because they've abused some third party? I don't think so - not so long as the claim in the ad is untrue or inaccurate. What we're really talking about isn't about what's offensive to some: a lie is offensive and deleterious to the public interest. Coleman & Co.'s claims against the nation of Israel must be PROVEN TRUE before their ads are placed or accepted ANYWHERE!! IF NOT: then every government agency and every level of government becomes an instrument of lies. NO private company will expose itself to the risk of prosecution due to policies which promote dishonest advertising!! They cannot be compelled to do so! Mr. Coleman and his ilk, need to be forced to prove their damaging claims against Israel. Period - end of story.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 3:43 p.m.

Yes, because as we know ALL advertising is 100% true. I have an idea. Just ignore it. It only has as much power as you give it.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 3:13 p.m.

You want to pay to advertise a boycott? -- Fine; But to integrate into the ad disturbing images of bones, skulls and falsified slander? That is not free speech; like yelling "Fire!" in the theater.

Paul Taylor

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 4:58 p.m.

What slander?

Basic Bob

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 4:22 p.m.

As distasteful as it is, I fail to see how you arrive at the conclusion that it is illegal.

David Cahill

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

The AATA Board continues its perfect negative record. First, its countywide plan blows up in its face. And now, its doubles down on its unconstitutional attempt to prevent running Coleman's ad.

Ron Granger

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

Apparently they have far too many people over there, with nothing to do but jaw about stuff.

Ron Granger

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 1:50 p.m.

So why does the AATA run the ads for the for-profit Bodies exhibits? They feature large pictures of dissected human corpses. Many are rightly concerned that the corpses are former political prisoners from totalitarian regimes. Some cities have passed laws requiring documentation on the source of the corpses. But no matter the source, they are images of dead people in advertising and some of us find it offensive.

sun runner

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 1:41 p.m.

I'm still confused about what, exactly, constitutes "boycotting" Israel. How does one boycott an entire country? I have no plans to visit, so I guess I'm good.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 4:46 p.m.

It means don't eat latkes.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 1:24 p.m.

Previous information has let us know that the ad under discussion was rejected because it "defames or is likely to hold up to scorn or ridicule a person or group of persons" which was and still is prohibited by the AATA advertizing policy, not because of the viewpoint. As mentioned in other comments, AATA has insurance which covers much of the cost of legal counsel. Accusations that legal fees will lead to any reduced service is completely inaccurate.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 1:15 p.m.

It cracks me up to see continued controversy over such a laughable ad. The artwork looks like it was scrawled by a middle school student trying to recreate the album art from his favorite heavy metal band.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 7:40 p.m.

Flames, an upside down message, and can we get an umlaut?

Jojo B

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 4:07 p.m.

LOL and thumbs up to both your comments! Another idea: They should have used a font that spells a secret message when you look at it upside down.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 1:51 p.m.

The only thing missing? Flames. There is nothing that you can say with a skull that you can't say better with a flaming skull.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 12:13 p.m.

This must be the response from Blaine Coleman in regards to Pamela Geller who had posters that have been condemned by Muslim and Jewish groups, read: "In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad." In six subway stations in Manhattan, they were covered with stickers reading "Hate Speech" and "Racist." Why doesn't Blaine go to Washington and protest the money that we send to both countries, seems like all he is doing is trying to incite a few that will take it to another step and then innocent people will be in harms way for no other reason than hatred. If you think going to Ohio games could be harmful to your health I can just imagine what this will bring.

Paul Taylor

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 4:56 p.m.

Both countries? Let's see... One is Israel. The other is... What? Palestine is not a country. No one will allow it to be.

Ron Granger

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

"If you think going to Ohio games could be harmful to your health I can just imagine what this will bring." So you are opposed to free speech due to safety concerns? In this particular instance, whom do you fear?


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 8:56 a.m.

I meant in the above that AATA should not take any ads if they have to spend so much money on legal fees. The ads are so ugly, anyhow, put up some pictures of flowers or parks, instead! Public art in buses? How about a millage?


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 8:53 a.m.

"BTW: no matter who's posting the anti-Israel ads: it's reasonable to investigate the source of their funding. Where's that ad money coming from, is what we want to know." That's a great idea:, are you up for this? It's a lot of money being wasted by Coleman, what's his source? I also agree that the amount that the AATA is spending on legal fees is probably going to equal any advertising revenue. It's just not worth fighting this hatred. The Israeli Arabs have a higher standard of living and much more freedom than anywhere else in the Middle East (except the royalty in Saudi Arabia, etc etc) Blaine Coleman is the hater. The Israelis are out of Gaza. They keep the Gazans out of Israel except in controlled situations because some of them have blown up Israelis, and many more fire missiles at them, supplied by Iran. I think that the US tries to keep out terrorists, too. Is that Apartheid? Lastly, Hamas and Iran fired missiles on Israel for several weeks before it retaliated. Note that the Gazan civilians did not have bomb shelters: Hamas was quite happy to have them killed to get world sympathy. The ACLU has lost so much support for this type of idiocy, now it looks as if they are supported by some "funny money" but where is it from?


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 8:04 p.m.

@Basic Bob: and who forced AATA into protecting the public from inflammatory propaganda being put on their buses?? It was this guy Coleman and his fringe activist pals - with the ACLU stupidly helping them at no cost to themselves. Advertising itself should be put under the rule of truth and accuracy: that way we'd all be protected from all kinds of scams being forced on us by those interminable "commercial breaks" on TV and in movie theaters. :-)

Basic Bob

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 12:57 p.m.

It's much easier to find the source of funds to support the opposition to the ads. Ann Arbor taxpayers. You can be sure that if this was financially impacting the board members and management of AATA, they would have found a way to resolve this dispute short of gambling in federal court (soon to be repeated). Instead it comes at the cost of reduced service or employee compensation.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 7 a.m.

Well, if it's legal for Coleman to post Israel-hating ads on buses than it must certainly be legal to post Eradicate Palestinian Terrorist Squatters ads on buses, right? Lets see a feature article on Blaine Coleman: including his home and work address so that those with a different opinion may boycott and picket him. RE: "Coleman is among a group of protesters who regularly stage public demonstrations in Ann Arbor, including at City Council meetings, calling for a boycott of Israel because of actions taken by the Israeli military."–– Lets hear Blane Coleman's reaction to what the Palestinian military is doing right now (rocket attacks on civilians living in Israel). Someone ought to explain to this guy that it was Arab Palestinians and their supporters from other Arab dominated areas who attacked Israel FIRST (in the very beginning). For 60 years, this has gone on, with the Arab / Palestinians constantly losing battles they themselves have started and then attempting to make Israel the bad guy. Sure, you have the right to express yourself but the real world also levies consequences. Too bad the Constitutional protection fails to address the matter of what's legitimate and what is not - it's not that complicated. BTW: no matter who's posting the anti-Israel ads: it's reasonable to investigate the source of their funding. Where's that ad money coming from, is what we want to know.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 7:56 p.m.

@ Sam, R. Granger, P. Taylor and H. Herskovitz: first and foremost you're all off the mark: my concern is solely about a nutjob individual by the name of Colman and his egregious use of the ACLU and ONE court decision (which could be overturned). I don't give squat about whatever relgio-cultural dispute is behind this. Nor is the putative history or any one-sided argument of concern: idiots / ideologues, fanboys and other such throwbacks can and should just sit down and shut up. I care about who's up to no good in our community: placing propagandistic ads on buses is being up to no good. My point is: Coleman supports a group guilty of initiating force (i.e. murder, attempted extermination, etc.). At every turn, palestinians have resorted to force first - and they consistently lose and then use propaganda attacks against Israel to justify FURTHER resorting for force. The Palestinians are allied with their identical genetic Arab neighbors, both using their religion to justify their psychopathic love affair with the use of deadly force - IN PREFERENCE TO well established peaceful (and non violent) procedures for resolution of disputes. This is the very definition of irrational: and NO rational human beings would support or tolerate such a group, program, political or religious movement. My points remain unaltered and unquestioned: if one party is allowed to post ads which are outside rational, civilize standards: then that party is vulnerable to "equal response" and should be subjected to a dose of OTHER PEOPLE'S VIEWS. It has nothing to do with the relative weakness of Coleman or the Palestinians - it's about proper justice under the law HERE in our town, our state and our country. And for your own good: you four should remember that you're responsible for finding peaceful and just resolutions to any disagreement. You should also learn the difference between legitimate and illegitimate methods. :-)

Henry Herskovitz

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 6:16 p.m.

Pro-"Israel" forces have beaten you to the punch, placings ads in NYC subways. Coleman's ad is not racist, but theirs most clearly is: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel Defeat Jihad". Coleman's ad clearly focuses on an apartheid state and a call to boycott its inherent apartheid structure. No name calling. Can't say the same for NYC "Israel" supporters.

Paul Taylor

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 4:54 p.m.

Someone is willfully ignoring the artificial partition that brought Israel about in the first place. To call Palestinians "squatters" is disingenuous in this light.

Ron Granger

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.

"Lets see a feature article on Blaine Coleman: including his home and work address so that those with a different opinion may boycott and picket him." The difference is that one is a country with nukes, the other is an individual. But I guess if you don't like the message, attack the messenger.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 12:04 p.m.

Another faux news watcher nice propaganda buddy people are wising up to the Israeli atrocities and are no longer turning a blinf eye to it.I applaud blaine coleman courage to stand up for the people of Palestine and their 65 years of brutal occupation.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 6:57 a.m.

A big question is how much is being shelled out to employ two separate law firms and an expert witness to defend the AATA. The first month's representation from Maddin Hauser cost almost $7,000; this was the law firm appointed by the AATA's liability insurance carrier. There is a $50,000.00 legal costs deductible the AATA has to pay. Additionally Jerry Lax's firm is defending the action as co-counsel. Professor Ahoron of the University of Michigan is being compensated at the rate of $250.00 hour as an expert witness. Additionally, the ACLU initiated this case under the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1871 and Blaine Coleman may be able to recover attorney fees as a prevailing plaintiff under 42 USC 1988. The AATA could shell out well into six figures by the time this is over.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 4:07 a.m.

way to go.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 2:27 a.m.

For the year-end awards, I nominate the anti-Israel people for most annoying local protest group.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 3:52 p.m.

I nominate the pro-Israel people for first runner-up of that award.

Vivienne Armentrout

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 12:07 a.m.

This is very simply resolved. AATA should simply stop placing advertising on its buses. The income earned is very minimal. The advertising is sometimes ugly. Why would AATA dilute its image in this way? I think there would be no constitutional barriers to simply dropping the ads.


Sat, Dec 1, 2012 : 7:13 a.m.

Vivienne's analysis is purely simplistic. I totally agree with her.

Ron Granger

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 2:03 p.m.

@Mike: "What's next make it so Fox News and MSNBC can't provide their coverage because you don't agree with it?" AATA is a taxpayer funded governmnt agency. Those businesses are not. Do you understand the difference?


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 7:01 a.m.

This dispute is essentially political. The AATA does not like his statement and will spend oodles of public funds to keep it off the buses. Same if some guy wanted to place pro-Castro ads on Miami city buses - the Cuban exile community would have a cow and fight it tooth and nail.

Vivienne Armentrout

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 2:46 a.m.

It's not a matter of my not agreeing with it. I have found a number of their ads to be ugly and basically not worth the money. They are just laying themselves open to a number of legal proceedings about whether they can deny any expression of opinion. These particular ads are offensive regardless of one's position on the underlying issue. To repeat: it is not worth the advertising income. They are diluting their brand image and incurring liability for no real purpose.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 12:51 a.m.

Oh, that's a great answer........just delete advertising altogether. What's next make it so Fox News and MSNBC can't provide their coverage because you don't agree with it?


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 11:47 p.m.

I would expect you will get some flak for showing the anti Israel ad here.

Kyle Mattson

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 12:43 a.m.

Hi jc- The image used above has been included in all previous reports of this story on


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 11:51 p.m.

But at least you didn't show some of his "other" work.