Pro-Israel Group Asks Court to Order SEPTA to Display “Stop the Islamic Jew-Hatred” Advertisement

Today, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, asking the court to order the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) to run a “Stop the Islamic Jew-Hatred” advertisement on its advertising space.  The motion was filed on behalf of the advertisement’s sponsors, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and its co-founders, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, and is part of a civil rights lawsuit filed against SEPTA last month.

In May, AFDI submitted the below advertisement for display on SEPTA’s advertising space:

Pro-Israel Ad

SEPTA rejected the ad, claiming that it “tends to disparage or ridicule any person or group of persons on the basis of race, religious belief, age, sex, alienage, national origin, sickness or disability.”

In its court filings, AFLC argues that SEPTA’s speech restriction is content- and viewpoint-based in violation of the First Amendment.  Citing to U.S. Supreme Court precedent, AFLC points out that:

Government censorship is repugnant to our Constitution, and for good reason.  Indeed, if there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.  Permitting the government to restrict speech it deems uncivil and thus allowing it to take sides on important public issues directly undermines our profound national commitment to the freedom of speech.  

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

“SEPTA’s conduct denying our clients’ ad is outrageous.  The so-called ‘disparagement’ or civility standard is nothing short of refuge for government censorship.  That the media and others in Philadelphia, the home of liberty, have not risen up in vocal protest over this patent violation of the First Amendment is shameful.  Volumes have been written by historians and scholars about Islamic Jew hatred.  Why not just permit some other government agency to ban these books and similar public displays on the same grounds?  Are Philadelphians so passive to government censorship or is it that they’d prefer to abandon liberty to appease some unruly mob which threatens the world with violence over the smallest slight?”

Robert Muise, AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel, added,

“AFLC has made it clear in lawsuits across the country—lawsuits we have litigated and won to protect the First Amendment—that this government conduct will not stand in the face of serious judicial scrutiny.  The government’s policy and approach to calling Islamic terrorism ‘extremist violence’ or ‘workplace violence’ or ‘religious extremism’ may not become a dictate or mantra enforced upon the body politic.  We are a free people who remain free because we possess the inalienable right to speak our minds freely in the public square about important issues of the day.  AFLC stands ready, willing, and able to protect that liberty in the courts anywhere anytime.”