SAN DIEGO - A wall poster asking travelers to stay away from SeaWorld is scheduled to be unveiled at San Diego's airport Thursday, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The organizations sued the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority in March, demanding that the poster ad be allowed. They contended that advertisements for nonprofits and SeaWorld San Diego are allowed at the airport, making the rejection of the animal rights group's message discriminatory.
The ACLU and PETA said the lawsuit was settled out of court, allowing the poster featuring actress Kathy Najimy to stay up for one month in Terminal 2.
"Nothing is more fundamental to the First Amendment than the principle that government may not silence speech because of its viewpoint," says David Loy, legal director at the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. "We are glad this case resulted in the vindication of PETA's free-speech right to reach San Diego visitors on the same terms as any other advertiser."
"We're thrilled. We think people deserve to make educated choices … and learn about the animal cruelty behind this tourist trap … It's a victory for orcas because people need to see the suffering endured at SeaWorld," said Dan Mathews, senior vice president of PETA.
The poster features the actress beside the words "Welcome to San Diego! If you love animals like I do, please avoid SeaWorld. Kathy Najimy for PETA."
Najimy, who grew up in San Diego, is known for her roles in "Sister Act" and the HBO series "Veep."
"It is shocking," Zahida Ali, visiting from Chicago, said of the ad.
"I was like, really?" added Connie Hester of Austin, Texas.
PETA has been demonstrating against SeaWorld for years, contending that its orcas are mistreated. The theme park denies the allegations.
SeaWorld Communications Director David Koontz issued this statement on the matter:
"PETA is an extremist organization and this ad demonstrates that, once again, they are more interested in publicity stunts than helping animals. The truth is that our animals at SeaWorld are healthy and happy. We are dedicated to their well-being. There is no organization more passionately committed to the physical, mental and social care and well-being of animals than SeaWorld, and the real advocates for animals are our trainers, aviculturists, animal-care staff and veterinarians. Most people recognize that SeaWorld, not PETA, is the real animal welfare organization. Information on our commitment to the animals in our care can be found at seaworld.com/truth."
Airport officials declined comment, referring 10News to the ad company, which couldn't be reached for comment.
SeaWorld has been at the center of controversy over its treatment of whales following the release of the 2012 documentary "Blackfish."