The Claim: Anti Gay Billboard Ads in Staten NY removal by Company is a violation of free speech
What is this about?
The basic issue is from back in the year 2000 when Rev. Kristopher Okwedy of Keyword Ministries paid $2,000 to post anti- gay biblical messages on two billboards on Staten Island. The billboard company, PNE Media of Union, N.J. took down the ads after a few days and returned the money to Pastor Okwedy. The billboard ads contained the following message (per court documents):
4 WAYS TO SAY LEVITICUS 18:22
THOU SHALL NOT LIE WITH MANKIND AS WITH WOMANKIND: IT IS ABOMINATION (KING JAMES)
YOU SHALL NOT LIE WITH A MALE AS WITH FEMALE: THAT WILL BE LOATHSOME (JAMES MOFFAT)
DO NOT LIE WITH A MAN AS WITH A WOMAN: IT IS DETESTABLE (BERKLEY VERSION)
HOMOSEXUALITY IS ABSOLUTELY FORBIDDEN FOR IT IS AN ENORMOUS SIN (LIVING BIBLE)I AM YOUR CREATOR
Pastor Okwedy, who had paid for the billboards, sued the company, along with the city and Guy Molinari, then the borough president, claiming violation of his First Amendment free speech rights Apparently Guy Molinari had sent a fax to PNE Media expressing displeasure over the billboards. This, in Pastor Okwedy’s opinion was unlawful government interference in free speech.
How did the case(s) turn out? What was the outcome?
In the end after 7 years of failed law suit attempts against the city and the company, the end came Feb 16 of 2007 when the Supreme court refused to take up the case. (Note that the AFA helped in bringing these lawsuits)
It is interesting to compare the thinking in this case with the thinking in the case of the video duplicator case in Arlington Va. covered here. In the case of the Video duplicator, his right to not print/copy material he found objectionable was fought for. In this case the fight was to force a business to produce what was to them, objectionable.
I realize there is a difference between a video duplicating service and an advertising company. However the two cases have totally opposite points of view .. one says that a business must produce material it finds objectionable no matter what (the billboards) ... the other says that a business has an absolute right to refuse to do so (the video duplicator)
I will admit that this is a somewhat gray area, however it becomes very evident when you look at these two examples that free speech is not the issue .. “my” speech is the issue.
As I typically do in these circumstances I reverse the issue and see how it comes out. What if a billboard company had refused to advertise materials that were critical of Christianity? I am sure Christians would have been happy to defend them in this. I doubt they would have an objection to a borough president (exercising his own free speech) sending a letter of concern to the company if they had published such an anti-christian Ad.
The bottom line is that I don’t see this as an attack on free speech. I instead see it more as competing free speech rights. A billboard company has as much right to refuse an ad as a video duplicator has the right to refuse to make copies.
Its more complex than the story given.
For those that need more details here are some links..
You can read about the actual wording of the signs (as shared above) and the wording of guy Molinari’s fax to PNE Media in these court documents.
For those that like lot of details from the attempted law suits over the years here are some court documents (remember .. these are cases brought by the reverend and those acting on his behalf).. ..