Last month a federal judge in New York City ruled the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) violated the first amendment rights of the Islamophobic group, American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), when MTA rejected a racist political ad the group wanted to place on the sides of city buses. AFDI, led by Pam Geller and Robert Spencer of the anti-Muslim blog Jihad Watch, is the umbrella group of Stop Islamization of America.
The group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, had proposed an ad that said, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.”
Then, between two Stars of David, the ad said: “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
The transportation authority said the ad violated its prohibition on ads that demeaned individuals or groups on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin and five other specific categories. The group was given the opportunity to revise the ad, but it refused, and claimed in a lawsuit that the agency’s “no demeaning” language restriction was unconstitutional.
The judge, Paul A. Engelmayer of Federal District Court, ruled that the rejected ad was “not only protected speech — it is core political speech,” expressing a “pro-Israel perspective on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict” and implicitly calling “for a pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy with regard to that conflict.”
As such, the judge held, the ad “is afforded the highest level of protection under the First Amendment.”
On the same day, impacted by the result of that court ruling in Manhattan, San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency approved Geller’s ads.
San Francisco’s ABC7 News:
San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency has a policy against political ads on its buses, but an ad being displayed now comes pretty close. The ad says, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad.”
James Ashburn was surprised when he saw his bus roll up with the ad on the side. “It really struck me as an inappropriate ad to be on a city bus,” he said. Ashburn took a picture of the ad and sent it to ABC7 News via uReport. He thought the ad crossed a line. “No matter what side you’re on, you should not describe your opponent as a savage,” he said.
The truth being in the eye of the beholder, ABC7 News showed the ad to Muslims going into Friday prayers at a San Francisco mosque. Adam Kennard called it propaganda. Ted Oriqat pointed out that the ad distorts the meaning of jihad. “Jihad, it doesn’t mean killing people or anything like that,” he said. And Oriqat is correct. Jihad means “struggle” and is frequently used as in “striving towards the way of God.”
The bus message didn’t sit very well with the city system in New York. They refused to run them and Geller took the transit authority to court. “And interestingly enough, the day that I won, was the day that San Francisco approved my ads that are currently running on your buses,” Geller said.
“A coincidence? Not according to Muni’s spokesman Paul Rose. “In this specific case, litigation was brought to this organization and the transit agency lost,” he told ABC7 News……..Asked how this particular ad is not considered political in light of Muni’s no-politics policy, Rose struggled to answer. However, the legal action and the fact that the New York MTA has already lost in court have had an impact. “
It is astounding Pamela Geller’s horrific ‘savage’ ads have come to our beautiful city by the bay. This has backfire written all over it and should open the floodgates in a wide ranging way. It will be impossible for SF Muni to refuse counter ads under these circumstances.
(Hat tip MW contributor Matthew Graber)