A Detroit-area transportation authority is refusing to run an ad that offers people who want to leave Islam a way out, claiming it is “scornful” of the religion.
But even if a statement is “scornful” of a subject, it still is constitutional in the United States, and a legal team now has filed a motion for summary judgment with a court in the Eastern District of Michigan.
Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs, co-founder with Jihad Watch director Robert Spencer of the organization that placed the ad, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, said Friday the case is getting old.
She explained that in 2009, her organization, AFDI, sued Detroit Transit and SMART transit after they refused to run the ad. AFDI won and the transit companies appealed.
“SMART was refusing to run outreach ads that might help Muslims living in dangerous households,” she said. “You might think that the Muslim Brotherhood was running SMART Detroit. It is astounding. And considering Detroit’s bankruptcy, Shariah adherence is more important than freedom of speech and fiscal responsibility.”
The motion was filed by the American Freedom Law Center.
The legal team said it is asking the federal court to enter judgment in favor of the sponsors of the bus advertisement and against the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, which halted the ad by claiming it was “political” and “scornful” toward Muslims.
The ad at issue stated: “Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got questions? Get Answers!”
During depositions taken in the case, SMART officials testified that “political,” for purposes of its advertising guidelines, means “any advocacy of a position of any politicized issue.”
But AFLC Senior Counsel Robert Muise noted the U.S. Supreme Court has warned “the danger of censorship and of abridgment of our precious First Amendment freedoms is great where officials have unbridled discretion to determine which messages are acceptable and which are not.”
“Indeed, a speech restriction violates the First Amendment when it grants a public official such broad discretion that the official’s decision to limit speech is not constrained by objective criteria, but rests on ambiguous and subjective reasons, as in this case,” he said.
The legal team has pointed out that the transit system already has accepted political ads, including one from the Detroit Area Coalition of Reason, an atheist organization which, by its own admission, engages in “separation of state and church activism.”
Its message was: “Don’t Believe in God? You are not alone.”
“SMART also accepted advertisements that advocate for sexual relations between men,” the law firm said. “One of the several advertisements of the ‘Status Sexy’ campaign accepted by SMART included a picture of a shirtless male in a sexually provocative position with the caption, ‘Knowing your HIV status before you get down. That’s SEXY.”
AFLC argues the undisputed facts demonstrate the agency has no coherent guideline and the restrictions are in place arbitrarily.
AFLC co-founder David Yerushalmi said SMART “apparently has no problem disparaging people of faith, such as Christians or Jews, or displaying lewd advertisements to a captive audience that includes young children.”
“Yet, these same government officials have the chutzpah to censor our client’s public service message because it is allegedly ‘political’ and ‘scornful’ toward Muslims,” he said.
In each case, efforts to censor the ads have been struck down by courts.