In May 2010, AFLC Co-Founders and Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi and Robert Muise filed a federal lawsuit challenging the refusal of a Detroit-area transportation authority—the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART)—to display a religious freedom advertisement on its buses. The ad stated, “Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got questions? Get Answers!”
The “Leaving Islam” ad was sponsored by the American Freedom Defensive Initiative (AFDI), founded by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. The lawsuit alleged violations of the Free Speech and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution. [A copy of the complaint is available here and below].
Sharia law prescribes the penalty of death for a Muslim who leaves the religion of Islam. A recent example is the case involving Rifqa Barry, the seventeen-year-old Ohio girl, who fearing for her life, ran away from home after her parents discovered she had converted to Christianity.
According to its website, AFDI’s “objective is to go on the offensive when legal, academic, legislative, cultural, sociological, and political actions are taken to dismantle our basic freedoms and values.” AFDI’s advertisement is an effort to reach out to Muslims, such as Barry, and to offer them sanctuary should they feel threatened for exercising their constitutional right to religious freedom—a right that is contrary to the dictates of Sharia law.
AFDI’s religious freedom advertisement was rejected even though SMART had no problem accepting and running an anti-religion ad sponsored by an atheist organization. That approved ad stated, “Don’t Believe in God? You are not alone.”
Yerushalmi commented, “Detroit officials apparently have no problem disparaging people of faith, such as Christians or Jews. Yet, these same officials censor speech that might offend Muslims. Such discrimination is a grave violation of our Constitution.”
In July 2010, Yerushalmi and Muise requested that the federal court grant a preliminary injunction halting the unconstitutional speech restriction. Under well established case law, even the momentary loss of First Amendment liberties constitutes irreparable harm sufficient to warrant an injunction.
In March 2011, the court granted the injunction, finding that SMART’s decision to deny AFDI’s advertisement was arbitrary and unreasonable in violation of the First Amendment. [A copy of the order granting the preliminary injunction is available here and below].
SMART appealed that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which sits in Cincinnati, Ohio. AFDI is defending the decision. [A copy of AFDI’s appellate brief is available here and below].
CASE UPDATE: (July 23, 2012): AFLC filed a “supplemental authority” letter with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, informing the court of the recent favorable decision by the N.Y. federal court in the case of AFDI v. MTA. On July 26, 2012, AFLC attorneys will be arguing before the Sixth Circuit in the case of AFDI v SMART, which raises similar First Amendment issues. You can read the letter here.
CASE UPDATE (November 7, 2012): AFLC files petition with Sixth Circuit, asking the full court to review and reverse a panel decision that upheld a plainly unconstitutional speech restriction. Read the brief here.