Important First Amendment Case Argued in Ninth Circuit

Seattle, Washington (August 30, 2018) — Yesterday afternoon, American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert Muise argued before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Seattle, Washington, asking the court to reverse the trial court and require the King County transit authority to run Pamela Geller’s and Robert Spencer’s anti-terrorism ad because the County’s refusal to do so is an unconstitutional viewpoint-based restraint on free speech.

The lawsuit was filed by AFLC in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle on behalf of Geller, Spencer, and their organization, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI).

According to the original complaint filed in 2013, in June of that year, King County displayed an advertisement submitted by the federal government that depicted the “Faces of Global Terrorism” in an effort to “stop a terrorist” and “save lives.”  The advertisement offered an “up to $25 million reward” for helping to capture one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists.

The terrorists identified in the ad were also found on the FBI’s most wanted global terrorists list, which is posted on the FBI’s website.  At the time, this list included pictures and “wanted posters” for thirty-two terrorists.  Of the thirty-two listed terrorists, thirty were individuals with Muslim names or were wanted for terrorism related to organizations conducting terrorist acts in the name of Islam.

According to news reports, the federal government terminated its “Faces of Global Terrorism” ad campaign after receiving complaints from politicians and advocacy groups that took offense that the list of wanted global terrorists pictured in the ad appeared to include only Muslim terrorists.

Shortly after the government pulled the ad, Geller and Spencer, on behalf of AFDI, submitted an advertisement to King County that included the same pictures, names, and message as the government’s earlier display.  The King County transit authority refused to run the ad in part because it claimed the ad was not wholly accurate about which government agency ran the rewards program and the amount of the awards.

After the courts agreed with the transit authority, AFDI submitted a second ad, this time making certain the ad was presented in such a way that removed the inaccuracy argument.  The transit authority still refused to run the ad on the grounds that it was disparaging to Muslims.

The trial court agreed once again with the transit authority, and AFLC appealed to the Ninth Circuit.  Oral argument was held yesterday, and it can be viewed on the court’s website by clicking here.

Oral Argument2

David Yerushalmi, AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel, commented:

“My colleague Robert Muise provided the Ninth Circuit and the King County transit authority with an excellent tutorial on the First Amendment.  I would urge any lawyer involved in this area of the law and all of those government officials who believe they may censor speech on the basis that it might hurt someone’s feelings to watch the oral argument and learn something important.”

AFLC has represented Geller, Spencer, and AFDI successfully in federal lawsuits across the country, most notably in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., where the courts have ordered the transit authorities to run AFDI’s anti-terrorism ads.  In each of those cases, the transit authorities were forced to pay substantial legal fees to AFLC.  In Chicago, the transit authority initially refused to run an AFDI “anti-jihad” ad, only to capitulate after stating in a letter that while transit authority officials considered the ad “morally reprehensible,” they were aware of AFLC’s successful litigation.

AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert Muise remarked after appearing before the Ninth Circuit:

“King County’s restriction on our client’s speech is not only wrongheaded, it is clearly unconstitutional.  Under the First Amendment, the government is not permitted to impose special prohibitions on speakers who express views on disfavored subjects or on the basis of hostility towards the messenger or the underlying message expressed.”

Muise added:

“It is quite evident, based on the fact that King County initially accepted the federal government’s ad only to have the feds pull the ad for fear of offending Muslims, that King County is now suffering from the quite debilitating disease of political correctness.  And there is little doubt that King County officials also dislike the messenger—our clients—who are doing a great service by alerting all Americans to the dangers of sharia and its followers.”

The Ninth Circuit is expected to decide the appeal and determine if the “Faces of Global Terrorism” ad will run on King County buses within the next several months.