A group that opposes testing on animals sued Metro on Tuesday, challenging the transit system’s rejection of three ads as well as its advertising policy.

The White Coat Waste Project is a nonprofit based in Haymarket, Va., that says it is opposed to government’s “wasteful spending on animal experiments,” according to the group’s website. The group sought to place ads onboard buses, trains or inside Metro stations in April, but three of its four proposed ads were denied on the basis of a Metro policy that prohibits ads intended to influence the public on issues where “there are varying opinions,” according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.

Metro’s policy also restricts ads that support or oppose a position that does not provide direct “commercial benefit” to the advertiser, the lawsuit said.

The group named Metro Chief Infrastructure Officer Andy Off as a co-defendant. Off was serving as interim general manager when Metro made the denials in May 2022.

Metro said it could not comment on pending litigation.

Megan Andersen, vice president of the White Coat Waste Project, said in a statement the group has faced refusals from other transit agencies and successfully challenged their policies.

Metro’s advertising guidelines, last updated in 2015, include 14 guidelines such as prohibiting ads that are false or misleading, as well as those with false testimonials. The policy states that issues trying to influence the public are prohibited, as are any ads that attempt to influence public policy.

In its lawsuit, the White Coat Waste Project said Metro doesn’t have a “legitimate” or compelling interest in prohibiting advertising designed to influence the public, and that transit officials violated the First and Fifth amendments when it rejected three advertising pitches. The group is asking a judge to declare Metro’s policy unconstitutional and to require the transit agency to accept its ads.

Images included in the lawsuit show White Coat Waste Project proposing one ad featuring a beagle sniffing powder next to a rolled-up dollar bill.

“Stop the money. Stop the madness!” the proposed ad said. “You paid $2.3 MIL in taxes for this!”

Another ad featured small animals fighting under the banner “NIH’s FIGHT CLUB.” “You paid $1.5 MIL in taxes for this!” the proposal said.

The group questioned Metro’s standard for what might be controversial, saying nearly every issue has an opposing point of view, according to the lawsuit.

“[Metro’s] prohibitions against ads designed to influence the public or public policy are incapable of reasoned applications and allows [Metro] to discriminate against advertisers based on [Metro’s] conception of the speaker,” the lawsuit stated.

Metro told the group that a panel reviewed the three rejected ads, the lawsuit said. A fourth ad was sent back after Metro said it could not review it until transit representatives could see a website associated with a QR code on the ad, the lawsuit said.

The White Coast Waste Project resubmitted the ad with a link that took viewers to a webpage selling the group’s T-shirts. On May 26, the lawsuit said, Metro approved that ad.

“Taken literally, the prohibition would prohibit all or most advertising, as every product, service, or issue that is [in] need of an advertisement naturally tries to influence a member of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit alleged Metro approves many other advertisements for which dissenting opinions can be found.

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