Good piece by Ben Weiser over at The New York Times.
"M.T.A. Violated Rights of Group," Judge Says By Benjamin Weiser, New York Times, July 20, 2012
A federal judge in Manhattan ruled on Friday that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority violated the First Amendment rights of a pro-Israel group when it rejected an advertisement the group wanted to place on city buses on grounds that they contained demeaning language.
An ad from the American Freedom Defense Initiative that was rejected by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, had proposed an ad that said, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.”
Then, between two Stars of David, the ad said: “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
The transportation authority said the ad violated its prohibition on ads that demeaned individuals or groups on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin and five other specific categories. The group was given the opportunity to revise the ad, but it refused, and claimed in a lawsuit that the agency’s “no demeaning” language restriction was unconstitutional.
The judge, Paul A. Engelmayer of Federal District Court, ruled that the rejected ad was “not only protected speech — it is core political speech,” expressing a “pro-Israel perspective on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict” and implicitly calling “for a pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy with regard to that conflict.”
As such, the judge held, the ad “is afforded the highest level of protection under the First Amendment.”
Pamela Geller, executive director of the group that sought to place the ad, called the decision “a victory for freedom-loving people.”
Ms. Geller is an outspoken blogger and critic of Islam whose group ran ads on city buses in 2010 that opposed construction of an Islamic center near ground zero.
Judge Engelmayer said he would delay the effect of his order for 30 days, to allow the transportation authority to consider its appellate options and alternatives to the current rule.
Aaron Donovan, a transportation spokesman, said on Friday that the authority was reviewing the decision, and that it was also “evaluating its existing advertising standards in light of the court’s ruling.”
A statement by the authority also cited portions of the opinion, including one in which the judge said that “the court does not impugn in the slightest” the agency’s motives in devising its “no-demeaning” standard or applying it to the proposed ad.
“Quite the contrary,” Judge Engelmayer wrote, noting that testimony and evidence in the case showed that the authority “has aspired to hold ads on public buses to a standard of civility.
“Its goal of preventing ads on city bus exteriors from being used as a medium for abuse and division in this diverse metropolis is entirely laudable,” the judge wrote. “It appears likely that M.T.A. drafted the standard in question with an eye toward the groups it felt most likely to be targeted by demeaning ads, without adequately considering the First Amendment implications.”
The judge said the authority had “reasonably read” the ad as referring to Muslims as “savages.”
But, he added, it was “well settled that, where a violation of the First Amendment is concerned, the government’s benign, even noble, intentions are no cure.”
The judge noted that the authority’s rule barred only ads that contained language that demeaned on the basis of the nine listed categories, which included ancestry, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation. Outside that list, the judge noted, the rule would permit demeaning ads.
He even offered examples, like “Southerners are bigots,” “Upper West Siders are elitist snobs,” “Fat people are slobs,” “Blondes are bimbos” and “Lawyers are sleazebags.”
Under the standard, he wrote, an ad could even accuse a private citizen of being a child abuser or running a Ponzi scheme.
“Whatever weight might be assigned to the governmental interest in banning demeaning speech on the exterior of New York City buses on an evenhanded basis,” Judge Engelmayer said, “there is no good reason for protecting some individuals and groups, but not others, from such abuse.”
The “no-demeaning” standard, he said, was, “therefore, inconsistent with the First Amendment.”
The group whose pro-Israel ad was rejected had sought to run it on about 318 city buses for four weeks, at a cost of about $25,000, the judge noted.
The ruling came two days after the transportation authority announced that it would sell advertising space on the front of MetroCards. Mr. Donovan said on Friday that the authority “does not intend to open MetroCards to noncommercial advertisements,” a decision that was reached, he said, before Friday’s ruling.
The authority has said in court papers that it received $116.4 million in revenue in 2011 from advertising sold throughout its subway, commuter rail and bus systems; of that, it received $4.65 million from noncommercial advertising, which included political ads.
“M.T.A. is cash-strapped,” the judge wrote. “It regards the money it receives from such ads as an important source of revenue.”
UPDATE: Wall to wall coverage. Free speech has become a novel idea. That is the real story here so infused is our media and culture with the blasphemy laws under the shariua.
8 Judge says MTA refusal to run bus ad calling Israel foes 'savages ... New York Daily News - 4 hours ago
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