Young Israel v. Hillsborough Regional Transit Authority

For the last fourteen years, Young Israel has hosted a community celebration called “Chanukah on Ice.” This family-friendly event features ice-skating, food, music, a raffle, and the lighting of an ice-sculpted menorah—one of the central symbols of Chanukah.

In October of 2020, Rabbi Rivkin, vice president of Young Israel, sought to advertise Chanukah on Ice on a nearby bus route operated by HART. The proposed advertisement included an image of a menorah and invited community members to enjoy “ice skating to Jewish music around the flaming menorah.”

HART refused to run the ad because it “does not allow religious affiliation advertising” and also bans “adult, alcohol, tobacco, and political ads.” Rabbi Rivkin appealed to HART’s CEO, who told him HART would run the ad if Young Israel removed the image of the menorah – the central religious image – from the ad and deleted all reference to the lighting of the menorah. When Young Israel was unwilling to strip its religious symbol from the ad, HART refused to run it.

On February 5, 2021, Young Israel filed a lawsuit against HART in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

On January 26, 2022, the federal district court granted summary judgment to Young Israel. The court found that HART’s ban on religious advertisements was both discriminatory and standardless. The court also ordered that HART’s religious-ad ban be permanently prevented from being enforced. HART the appealed the district court’s decision to the Eleventh Circuit.

In September 2022, the Center filed an amicus brief in support of Young Israel in which the Center asked the Eleventh Circuit to uphold the district court’s decision, arguing that HART’s policy forbidding advertisements that primarily promote a religious faith or religious organization is viewpoint discrimination and also discriminates against religion in violation of the Free Exercise Clause.