The Wall Street Journal piece is excellent.
'Court Rejects MTA’s Ban Against ‘Demeaning’ Transit Ads' By Ted Mann, Wall Street Journal
A federal judge ruled Friday that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority violated the First Amendment when it rejected advertisements on city buses describing the enemies of Israel as “savages.”
The transit agency’s prohibition on ads that demean individuals or groups by virtue of race, religion and other characteristics is overly broad, the court found, and represents an unconstitutional limit on political speech.
At issue is an advertisement proposed last year by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a pro-Israel group that had previously purchased advertising space on subways and buses that touted a “refuge from Islam” and opposed the construction of an Islamic center near the former World Trade Center site.
The MTA declined to publish another ad, which read in part: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.” In larger type, the ad declared: “Support Israel Defeat Jihad.”
MTA officials determined — correctly, as U.S. District Court Judge Paul Engelmayer wrote in his ruling — that the language in the ad identified Muslims as savages. But the underlying principle of rejecting messages that demean only certain kinds of groups and not others goes against constitutional protections of free speech.
The MTA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision.
In a 35-page decision, the judge praised efforts by MTA officials to uniformly apply its rules and said the “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.”
Judge Engelmayer ruled that advertising space on the sides of MTA buses represents a “designated public forum” where government agencies have lesser powers to regulate speech. He noted that the MTA’s existing rules are full of holes that would allow many other demeaning generalizations, including harsh characterizations directed at people with certain political beliefs or working for a certain company.
The judge even offered his own examples of offensive advertisements that would be deemed acceptable by the MTA’s current rules, including ”fat people are slobs” and “southerners are bigots.” The word “savages,” at the center of the rejected pro-Israel ad, would have been allowed under the transit agency’s guidelines if it had been applied to “a neighbor, a family, a school, an employer, an employee, a company, a union, a community group, a charity, an interest group, a believer in a cause, or a political foe,” Judge Engelmayer wrote.
The ruling doesn’t preclude the MTA from re-drafting its rules on acceptable advertising language to promote civility while providing for constitutionally protected speech, the judge wrote.
Pamela Geller, the executive director of the pro-Israel group behind the rejected ad and a plaintiff in the case, hailed the ruling on her website as “a great victory for the First Amendment.”