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Transit agency officials in Washington, D.C., contend they are not censoring free speech – just “deferring” it in light of the feelings of Muslims around the world – in their decision to not post an advertisement that advocates defending Israel and defeating jihad.
The ad previously has raised a ruckus on the West Coast, where San Francisco transit officials accompanied it with a disclaimer, and in New York, where a federal judge ruled it can begin appearing Monday.
The ad states: “In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
According to the American Freedom Law Center, which is working with the ad sponsors, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority expressed concerns about “situations happening around the world” and the “security and safety” of passengers.
Those were the reasons given for its decision to “delay” posting a pro-Israel/anti-jihad ad from the Freedom Defense Initiative until a “future date.”
As a result, the AFLC has gone to court on behalf of FDI and its executive directors, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. The lawsuit challenges WMATA’s restriction on FDI’s right to engage in protected speech in a public forum.
It also seeks a temporary restraining order that would allow the ads to be posted immediately as scheduled.
Robert Muise, senior counsel for AFLC, said: “The WMATA does not want to display a message that it deems to be critical of Islam, critical of jihad, or supportive of Israel in light of the current ‘world events.’ However, it is precisely because of the current political situation unfolding in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere that FDI should be permitted to express its message, and any delay amounts to government censorship of speech. Because FDI’s speech is core political speech, it should be accorded the greatest protection under the First Amendment.”
The transit agency already leases space for ads that are commercial, noncommercial, public service, public-issue, political and religious. For example, it has posted the message, “End U.S. military aid to Israel.”
In response to that statement, FDI contracted with CBS Outdoor, the advertising agent for the transit authority, on Sept. 6 to place the pro-Israel ads on four dioramas in area subways starting Sept. 24.
“WMATA – presumably intimidated by the ongoing violence perpetrated by Muslims who claim to be angered by a YouTube video critical of Islam – informed Geller on September 18, 2012, through its CBS Outdoor agent that they will not run the advertisement as scheduled,” the legal team confirmed.
The transit agency said “world events and a concern for the security of their passengers” were the reasons.
AFLC co-founder David Yerushalmi said: “Under the First Amendment, speech cannot be punished or banned simply because it might offend a hostile mob. The WMATA’s speech restriction is based on the perceived negative response that FDI’s message might receive from certain viewers based on its content and viewpoint. However, a viewer’s reaction to speech is not a content-neutral basis for regulation. This is known as a ‘heckler’s veto,’ which is impermissible under the First Amendment.”
The organizations just finished a similar fight in New York, where a federal judge ruled free speech requires the transit authority to display the ads, just as it has displayed other ads. The ads are scheduled to appear next week.