NEW YORK – A group of Bay Area peace activists went to court July 13 to try to force Clear Channel Communications to allow an antiwar advertisement on a billboard in Times Square here.

Clear Channel has faced criticism for its ties to the Bush administration and is being accused of censorship by the activists of the group, Project Billboard, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The ad states, “Democracy is best taught by example, not by war,” and was to appear during the Republican National Convention in late August. Its design has see-sawed between a red, white and blue time bomb and a dove.

Although Clear Channel claims it has no objection to the dove ad, it had to be approved by the Marriott Marquis Hotel, where the billboard is located. However, Project Billboard spokesman Howard Wolfson told the Times the contract with Clear Channel did not mention that the hotel would have veto power.

“The same message with a dove image, not a bomb, is fine,” said Paul Meyer, chief executive of Clear Channel Outdoor, adding what could become the new capitalist slogan: “We have absolutely no political agenda. Our agenda is a profit agenda.”

According to the Times, Deborah Rappaport, Project Billboard spokeswoman, said she believed Clear Channel was engaging in censorship. She compared this incident with the company’s decision to drop radio shock jock – and vocal President Bush critic – Howard Stern, and last year’s move by some Clear Channel stations to pull the Dixie Chicks from their playlists after member Natalie Maines said she was “ashamed” that Bush was a fellow Texan.

President Bush has long-standing links to Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks, a top Clear Channel executive, the Times noted, “and Clear Channel executives have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican causes.”

The Project Billboard ad was to be one of several to promote public debate on such issues as the war in Iraq, public education, the environment and dependence on overseas oil, according to Rappaport.

Kathleen Duffy, spokeswoman for the Marriott Marquis, said the hotel had originally understood that the billboard would be used for an ad urging people to vote. She said the hotel was surprised by the submission of an antiwar message.

She told the Times the hotel “reserved the right to turn down ‘anything that has overt sexual content or is political’” and that it had rejected or demanded modifications to past ads with sexual content. “We have not had a political ad presented before,” Duffy said.

“There are a lot of ads in Times Square that I might find objectionable and my wife might find objectionable, but that’s the nature of democracy,” Wolfson told the Times. “When you have a corporation with very clear ties to the Bush administration making decisions on free speech, it’s a problem.”

At press time, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the back-and-forth battle over the advertisement took a fresh turn July 12 when Project Billboard said it will push to display the original bomb image, rather than the dove compromise.

“Bombs are serious images, but war is a serious issue,” said Doug Curtis, a Manhattan attorney representing the group.