Court rules Christian group may sue Florida transit agency

Court rules Christian group may sue Florida transit agency that refused anti-homosexuality ad

A federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit by a conservative Christian group against a public transit agency that refused an advertisement at bus shelters for an anti-homosexuality conference.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Miami, in a ruling made public Friday, decided a federal judge in Tampa erred when he threw out Focus on the Family ‘s 2001 lawsuit against the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

The appeals court said the group may pursue its claim of First Amendment violations against the authority, which refused to post advertisements at bus shelters for the group’s 2000 “Love Won Out” convention in St. Petersburg. The conference discussed homosexuality and the theory it can be prevented or overcome through prayer and religious practice.

“This is a great victory — we are elated,” said Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy for Focus on the Family.

Neither the attorney for the bus system nor its executive director immediately returned phone calls Friday.

While private companies usually can reject ads they don’t want, the question in this case is whether a government entity working through a private company may do so if the agency believes the ads might be offensive to some.

The transit authority had a contract with Eller Media, which owns and manages 500 bus shelters, but the authority retains final say on all advertisements on the shelters. Eller Media isn’t named in the lawsuit.

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