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Sweetwater Airport refutes PETA’s free speech claim

Airport officials stand by their record ‘supporting free speech’ after animal rights group sued over rejected ad.

PETA's proposed but rejected ad for the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport in Rock springs depicts a moo-cow carry-on and urges passengers to fly vegan. (PETA)

by Angus M. Thuermer Jr., WyoFile

Airport officials in Rock Springs have rejected claims by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport unlawfully blocked an ad sought by the animal rights group and violated the group’s free speech rights.

Airport officials responded to the suit, which PETA filed in federal court June 4, saying the group presented the public with “misstatements and mischaracterizations” when it announced its court action.

“We look forward to answering the allegations in this suit through the appropriate channels, where we will set the record straight,” the Rock Springs-Sweetwater County Airport Board said in a statement issued last month.

PETA’s claim

PETA claimed in its suit that the airport rejected an ad depicting a cow-like carry-on bag urging airline passengers to fly without leather luggage. “Was She Killed to Make Your Carry-On?” the ad asks. “Cruelty doesn’t fly | Choose vegan.”

The suit claims the airport improperly rejected the ad, a violation of the First and 14th Amendments, which protect free speech and due process respectively. PETA believes the ad was rejected because of its content and asked for an order requiring the airport to exhibit the ad “on the same terms offered to other advertisers.”

Limited forum

“The Airport is a ‘limited public forum,’ … meaning the Airport has the right to place limits on advertising speech by restricting the time, place, and manner of the advertising,” the airport board statement reads.

Advertising space at the airport is limited by ongoing construction, the statement said. The limitations applied to the PETA ad “are clearly content and viewpoint neutral and meet the test of the First Amendment law,” the statement said.

PETA is using the complaint to attract attention, the board said, and the airport “will stand on its record of supporting free speech, a fundamental right that is dear to all Wyomingites.”

The airport board had not filed a response in court by July 2 but has asked for and received permission for more time to do so.

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.