NEW YORK, July 20 (Reuters) - A pro-Israel group must be
allowed to place a paid advertisement on New York City public
buses that a U.S. judge on Friday said likens Muslims to
U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan in a
written opinion said a 1997 rule by the Metropolitan
Transportation Authority that barred demeaning language in
advertisements was a violation of free speech.
While the rule was well intentioned, the judge found, it had
the effect of discriminating against certain advertisers based
on the content of their proposed message.
The advocacy group American Freedom Defense Initiative sued
the MTA in September 2011 after the transit agency denied its
The ad said: "In any war between the civilized man and the
savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel/Defeat Jihad."
The ad would have been posted on 318 city buses for four weeks,
at a cost of about $25,000, the opinion said.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative, based in Sherman
Oaks, California, has been one of the most vocal opponents to
the planned construction of a mosque and Islamic center near
Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. The group says the prayer center
is funded by Islamists and would sully the memory of victims of
the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"This is a great victory for the First Amendment," the group
said on its website. "Disallowing a pro-Israel ad was clearly a
politically correct, politically motivated denial of free
speech," said Pamela Geller, the group's executive director.
The MTA said in a statement that it was reviewing the
opinion and "is evaluating its existing advertising standards in
light of the court's ruling."
Citing the 1998 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion,
New York Magazine v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the
judge said the advertising space on public buses should be
considered a public forum.
In addition, the judge said that because the ad in question
was core political speech, it was entitled to the "highest level
of protection under the First Amendment."
"By differentiating between which people or groups can and
cannot be demeaned on the exterior of a city bus, MTA's
no-demeaning standard ... discriminates based on content," the
The judge said his preliminary injunction would take effect
in 30 days, at which time the MTA would be prevented from
enforcing the standard.
The standard bars any ads that "contain ... information that
demean(s) an individual or group of individuals on account of
race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, age,
disability or sexual orientation."
The judge said that MTA officials had been correct to regard
the ad as "demeaning a group of people based on religion
"In the Court's view, MTA reasonably read the AFDI Ad to
target as "savages" persons who adhere to Islam, i.e., Muslims,"
the judge said.
Yet, the standard itself does allow for demeaning statements
on a host of other topics, such as where they live, their job or
their political affiliation, the judge said.
The case is American Freedom Defense Initiative v.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority, U.S. District Court for
the Southern District of New York, No. 11-cv-6774.
For the AFDI: David Yerushalmi of the American Freedom Law
For the MTA: Peter Sistrom of the MTA.
(Reporting By Basil Katz)
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