HART rejects ad from Council on American-Islamic Relations for second time this year CLTampa, Aug 5, 2013 ,Earlier this year, the HART board rejected this ad For the second time this year, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) has rejected an ad submitted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The transportation organization cited its policy that prohibits promoting a religious faith or organization.
Last December, the Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group announced an ad campaign to reclaim the word jihad from extremists, and began posting such "My Jihad" ads in transit systems in San Francisco and Washington D.C.
But HART rejected the ad earlier this year, citing its policy.
After working with HART management, CAIR submitted a much different ad that removed the word jihad and instead showed a group of Muslims next to the phrase, "Embracing diversity at work. Defending Civil Rights in the Community."
Although HART's attorney David Smith felt the new ad was appropriate, the HART board rejected it today. Only County Commissioner Kevin Beckner and HART chair Fran Davin dissented.
Beckner was upset after the vote, saying that "once again," the Hillsborough County government showed it doesn't care about diversity in the community.
Before the board members began their discussion, Smith went through a lengthy explanation of commercial speech as defined by the Supreme Court, as well as the board's own policy when it comes to what is acceptable in terms of an ad's content. He said whatever they decided needed to be consistent, non-arbitrary and non-capricious. He also said regardless of how they voted, there could still be a First Amendment legal challenge coming their way.
Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez said that the board's current policy is pretty straightforward when it comes to not allowing religious groups to advertise. He said if the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (a civil rights group that fought segregation the 1960's) wanted to advertise with HART, they would also face rejection like CAIR.
Board member Ann Madden said she received plenty of emails when CAIR proposed its "My Jihad" ad earlier this year, much of them "not rational." But she worried about how HART bus drivers would be able to express their displeasure if the new CAIR ad was affixed on their bus.
Board member Wallace Bowers said even though the new ad completely downplayed the group's religious aspect, the intent had not changed, and therefore the board should reject it.
Commissioner Mark Sharpe agreed with Bowers. He said CAIR's message was honorable, but "I think it's very clear it would be a violation of our policy."
There were two members of the public who spoke out against CAIR's proposal, including Jefferson Kaster — a judge advocate with the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command — who at one point compared CAIR to the KKK.
"Does it matter what it says?" he asked the board, referring to the new ad language. "Or does it matter what the group does? And what they stand for, their values? It is very important." Kaster then asked if a HART bus had a CAIR ad on its side, "Would a Jew want to want ride that bus? Would a Christian want to ride that bus?"
He also reacted to Beckner's comment about diversity, and said it's not the agency's job to advance that notion.
"It's everybody's responsibility to advance multi-cultural diversity and understanding. If you had spent a quarter of the time that I have with this community, you would recognize what they do with the poor, for the indigent, and how much they want to interact with our community. But when you put out false ideas ... and you try to express your 'American' values simply because you don't look like them, sir, that doesn't advances anybody's causes in our community. And it certainly doesn't define real American values that makes this country a great melting pot for everyone," the county commissioner said.
CAIR and controversy seem to go together, especially in Hillsborough County. Last year, school board candidate Terry Kemple tried to overturn the board's policy of allowing representatives from CAIR to speak at local schools. Her campaign began after Hassan Shibley from the Tampa CAIR chapter spoke at Steinbrenner High in 2011.
Kemple and other critics contend that CAIR is affiliated with terrorist groups. For a primary source, they cite the U.S. Government's deeming of CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator in a 2007 Texas case.
Last year, CAIR-Chicago Executive Director Ahmed Rehab said by using 'jihad' in the campaign, CAIR was "reclaiming jihad from the Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists who ironically, but not surprisingly, see eye to eye on jihad."
Smith was directed by the board to review portions of the current policy when it comes to accepting such ads.
CL has reached out to CAIR for comment. We'll update this page if and when a representative of the organization responds.