“Support Israel/Defeat Jihad” ads that label jihadists “savages” can remain on New York City buses, despite Muslim objections, a U.S. judge ruled Friday.
U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan said a 1997 rule by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that barred demeaning language in advertisements was a violation of free speech, Reuters reported.
Judge Engelmayer said the MTA rule was well intentioned but discriminates against certain advertisers based on the content of their proposed message.
The advocacy group American Freedom Defense Initiative, one of the most vocal opponents to the planned construction of a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero, sued the MTA in September 2011 after the transit agency denied its proposed ad.
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.
"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 judge said the advertising space on public buses should be considered a public forum. The judge also ruled that because the ad in question was 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 opinion said.
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."
While MTA officials had been correct to regard the ad as "demeaning a group of people based on religion (Islam)," 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.
Some Muslims were furious over the ruling. Pakistani-American CUNY student Omar Makram Radwan told Bikyamasr.com, “If we decided to put ask for ads saying Israel and Jews were savages, we would be protested and the court would agree with them that they are hate speech so I don’t see the difference here.
“This sort of hate speech is now being tolerated by judges and as Ramadan hits it is very unfortunate. People are angry.” The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began last Friday.