Monday, October 03, 2005

Federal Court of Appeals Hears Arguments of a Woman Who Was Booted From a Bus Because She Handed Out the Bible

On October 28, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on behalf of Gail Anderson who filed suit against the Milwaukee County Department of Public Works and Transportation Division (“Transit Authority”) after she was escorted off a public transportation bus for distributing the Bible. Mathew D. Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, presented the oral argument before the three judge panel.

At the time of the incident Ms. Anderson was 56-years-old. Having no driver’s license, she relies on public transportation. The Transit Authority’s policy, Tariff 116, bans leafleting. Transit Authority officials have applied the Tariff in conflicting and confusing ways. Some interpret the Tariff to prohibit the exchange of business cards or any printed material. Others have made exceptions for two passengers exchanging newspapers.

In the summer of 2002, while Ms. Anderson was seated on the bus, she offered The Book of Hope to a few passengers who were next to her. The Book of Hope contains the Bible. After the bus driver saw her, he ordered her to stop and stated that distributing any literature violated the Transit Authority’s policy. Tariff 116 requires that anyone distributing literature be removed from the bus. In the heat of the afternoon, Ms. Anderson was forced to walk home.

The argument before the federal court of appeals focused on the policy being vague, overbroad, and unreasonable. The conflicting and confusing applications of the policy do not provide sufficient clarity to passengers. Moreover, a total ban on leafleting to nearby passengers who are willing to receive literature violates the First Amendment.

It makes no sense to allow verbal conversations between passengers, as the transit authority must, but prohibit the same discussion when oral conversation is transformed to print and freely offered in the form of a leaflet. The Milwaukee Transit Authority policy allows passengers to wear political buttons but would boot them from the bus if they exchanged them. Conventioneers could discuss what meetings they attended but if they offered to another printed handouts they forfeit their right to ride the bus. Such a policy defies common sense and the Constitution.

Audio of the oral argument is available online at: