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Bus ads challenge mosque: 'Why there?'

‘Why there?’ ad on New York City bus

For the past week, buses in New York City have been displaying advertisements asking of the Islamic mosque and cultural center planned to be build near Ground Zero, “Why there?”

The rolling ads mark a victory for opponents of the proposed mosque, who launched a First Amendment lawsuit after the city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority threatened not to honor the advertising contract for the signs.

“It’s an issue of free speech,” argues Pamela Geller, executive director of Freedom Defense Initiative, the group that created the ad. “I mean, what is the principle of free speech? It’s to protect all ideas, not just the good ones, not just the ones that everybody likes, but all ideas.”

Only after FDI partnered with the Thomas More Law Center in filing a complaint in U.S. district court did the MTA relent and allow the ads to be placed on the buses.

Yesterday, the Law Center told WND, FDI received an affidavit assuring that the ads would continue to be run, allowing FDI to now voluntarily dismiss its lawsuit.

FDI originally contracted last month with CBS Outdoor, the advertising agent for MTA, to display the signs. But shortly thereafter, an official with CBS Outdoor began asking Geller to alter the ad content in a series of revisions – first to remove the image of the jet and then the flames, arguing that the ads were wrongly drawing an association between the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the proposed Ground Zero mosque.

‘Why there?’ bus advertisement

According to the filed complaint, the official “said the sponsors of the Ground Zero Mosque had publicly stated that they were not connected to the terrorists who committed 9/11, so it would be ‘hurtful’ if FDI’s advertisement suggested otherwise.”

The lawsuit explains the predicament: “If [FDI] did not edit, dilute and change
their message per [the MTA’S] demands, then the advertisement would not be allowed to run.”

After the lawsuit was filed earlier this month, however, MTA relented and allowed the ads.

It’s not the first time Geller and FDI have battled with bus advertisements perceived to be too critical of Islam.

As WND reported, FDI ran into similar resistance in Detroit earlier this year when the city’s Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation rejected FDI’s “Leaving Islam? Got questions? Get answers!” ads.

WND also reported when Miami yanked the “Leaving Islam?” ads from its buses, only to restore them later after FDI and the Law Center filed another First Amendment case.

“There is a pattern developing whereby municipal transportation authorities across the country are refusing to run FDI ads they deem offensive to Muslims,” commented Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Law Center, in a statement. “It’s only when they are prodded by litigation do they recognize that the constitutional right to freedom of speech trumps their attempts at political correctness.”

Meanwhile, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which supports the planned mosque, has released its own statement, condemning the “Why there?” ads.

“While American Muslims support free expression, we maintain the right to question the motives of the group behind the bigoted bus ads opposing the planned community center near Ground Zero,” CAIR contends. “Anti-Muslim fanatics … are exploiting the tragedy of 9/11 to spread hate and fear. That kind of divisive tactic is not only insensitive to New Yorkers, it risks threatening the safety of an entire religious minority.”

Thompson, however, not only defends Geller’s First Amendment right to purchase the ad but also supports her motivation.

“Imam [Feisal Abdul] Rauf’s attempt to build the Ground Zero Mosque is an act of provocation and insensitivity,” Thompson states. “The Law Center applauds Pam Geller and [FDI leader] Robert Spencer for their courageous efforts to expose the Imam’s advancement of Shariah law in the United States.”