A judge in Washington, D.C., ruled today that a “heckler’s veto” of pro-Israel ads that already have appeared in San Francisco and New York cannot be used to censor the message in Washington.
The judge granted a request by the American Freedom Law Center for an injunction to halt the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority censorship of a pro-Israel/anti-jihad bus advertisement.
The judge ordered the agency display the ads no later than 5 p.m. on October 8, 2012.
Judge Rosemary M. Collyer granted the request after AFLC co-founder and senior counsel Robert Muise presented a compelling case in which he argued that the WMATA’s refusal to run the advertisement out of a vague and speculative fear of Muslim mob violence violates AFLC’s clients’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Muise of the American Freedom Law Center is representing the ad sponsors, Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs and Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch who are working together under the banner of the Freedom Defense Initiative.
“Today, Judge Collyer affirmed that our fundamental right to freedom of speech cannot be suppressed by mob rule. This is not only a victory for our clients, but it is a clear victory for all freedom-loving Americans.”
It was back on Sept. 18 when the agency decided to delay running a pro-Israel/anti-jihad advertisement on its metro system until some “future date” due to alleged concerns about “the situations happening around the world,” “world events,” and the “security and safety” of its passengers.
Muise explained the WMATA’s decision was based in response to the ongoing violence in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere in an alleged protest of free speech in the United States that is critical of Islam.
AFLC challenged the censorship.
The victory follows on the heels of a New York federal judge ordering New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to display the same advertisement after the MTA had initially refused to run it in September 2011, claiming that the advertisement violated the MTA’s policy against displaying “images or information that demean an individual or group of individuals on account of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation.”
The ad states, “In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man. Support Israel, Defeat Jihad.”
The ad previously has raised a ruckus on the West Coast, where San Francisco transit officials accompanied it with a disclaimer.
Muise said earlier, “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.”
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.
When the ad appeared there, a pro-Islamic activist who has worked for MSNBC was arrested for vandalizing a poster with spray paint.