First Amendment For Corporations: American Beverage Association Says Advertising Rules Violate Rights

The American Beverage Association is bringing back the debate about whether corporations have the same guaranteed constitutional rights as human citizens. Like the Hobby Lobby case, the beverage group’s complaint centers around First Amendment rights. However, they’re focusing on the other half.

The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech and free practice of religion. Hobby Lobby’s lawyers claimed that by forbidding the company to select employee insurance plans that leave out contraceptive coverage, the corporation’s right to practice religious beliefs was denied. Similarly, the American Beverage Association claims that the rights of beverage companies are being denied by new advertising laws in one city.

According to WITN, the city of San Fransisco has passed new laws for advertising certain products. The laws require that any sugary beverage be labeled with warnings about obesity and tooth decay. The new laws also forbid advertisements for soft drinks and other unhealthy beverages on city property.

The American Beverage Association alleges that these regulations violate beverage companies’ First Amendment rights, and that the city is illegally limiting the speech of companies the association represents.

The beverage industry isn’t the first or the only to be affected by requirements to publish health information, of course. Similar laws went into effect in 1965, according to the CDC, on another industry: tobacco. These laws, too, blocked advertising in certain markets, and required warning labels.

In many American cities, new laws and regulations affecting the sale of beverages have been proposed. The New York Times reports that only last year, an attempt by the New York City Board of Health to forbid the sale of sodas in large (greater than 16 ounces) sizes was struck down. The American Beverage Association is currently battling against another regulation: a beverage tax in Alabama, that would be added to the cost of sodas.

The fight in San Francisco is substantially different, though. In New York City, the question hinged on the Board of Health and whether it had the authority to pass such a measure. In Alabama, the right to impose a tax is not questioned, and the outcome depends largely on public response.

In San Fransisco, though, the question is whether the American Beverage Association, and the companies it represents, have a right to free speech, and whether a local government can regulate that speech within city limits. The American Beverage Association alleges that a right is being violated and will ask a court to determine whether free speech applies.

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