MBTA’s Ban on “Defeat Jihad” Advertisement Heading to U.S. Appellate Court

Pro-Israel / Anti-Sharia AdThe American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) has filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, seeking review of a Massachusetts federal judge’s ruling that denied AFLC’s motion for a preliminary injunction.  Through the motion, AFLC requested that the court order the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) to display a pro-Israel / anti-sharia bus advertisement.  The advertisement, which is supportive of Israel in the debate over the Israeli / Palestinian conflict, states: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.  Support Israel.  Defeat jihad.”  The MBTA rejected the proposed advertisement, claiming that it was “disparaging” and “demeaning.”

Robert Muise, AFLC Co-founder and Senior Counsel, commented:

“It was evident from the federal judge’s opinion that but for a prior and sharply-divided decision from the First Circuit — a decision binding on the court — he would have likely ruled in our favor.  We knew when we filed this action that an appeal to the First Circuit was likely inevitable.”

According to the court’s opinion:

“[T]he Court agrees with the plaintiffs that the most reasonable interpretation of their advertisement is that they oppose acts of Islamic terrorism directed at Israel.  Thus, if the question before this Court were whether the MBTA adopted the best interpretation of an ambiguous advertisement, it would side with the plaintiffs.  But restrictions on speech in a non-public forum need only be reasonable and need not be the most reasonable,” citing Ridley v. MBTA, a prior decision issued by the First Circuit in a case challenging the MBTA’s restrictions on bus advertisements.

AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi commented:

“We are appealing the lower court’s ruling in an effort to get the wrongly-decided Ridley decision either narrowed to the point where it won’t be a hindrance to future First Amendment cases or ultimately reversed either by an en banc (full court) panel or a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Needless to say, this important First Amendment battle continues.”

AFLC’s motion for a preliminary injunction is part of a federal civil rights lawsuit recently filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on behalf of Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, and their organization, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI).

In the motion, AFLC highlighted the fact that although the MBTA rejected ADFI’s pro-Israel advertisement, it accepted an anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian display that appeared on approximately 80 posters throughout the transit system.  That advertisement depicted four maps that purport to show the “Palestinian loss of land” to Israel between 1946 and 2010.  Text accompanying the maps says: “4.7 million Palestinians are Classified by the UN as Refugees.”  As AFLC’s legal papers demonstrate, by claiming “refugee” status under the imprimatur of the U.N., the anti-Israel advertisement is claiming that Israel is in effect engaging in war crimes by “persecuting” Palestinians on account of their race, religion, or national origin.

AFLC has represented Geller, Spencer, and AFDI successfully in federal lawsuits across the country, most notably in New York and Washington, D.C., where the courts ordered the transit authorities to run AFDI’s pro-Israel advertisements.

In addition, AFLC recently filed a lawsuit in federal court in Seattle, Washington, against the King County transit agency for refusing to run an anti-terrorism advertisement on its public transit buses.  That advertisement, which was also sponsored by Geller, Spencer, and AFDI, displayed photographs of global terrorists from the FBI’s most wanted list, most of whom have Muslim names or are wanted for terrorist acts that were committed in the name of Islam.  King County denied the advertisement because it feared that it would be offensive to local Muslims.  In that case, AFLC also argued that King County’s censorship of AFDI’s advertisement was an unconstitutional speech restriction.