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Court Rules ‘Defeat Jihad’ Ads Protected by First Amendment
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On Friday, U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan held in a written opinion that the 1997 rule by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York, which barred demeaning language in advertisements, was a violation of free speech. According to the court’s decision, a pro-Israel group must be allowed to place a paid advertisement on New York City public buses that say “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel/Defeat Jihad.” According to the opinion, the ad would have been posted on 318 city buses for four weeks.

The controversial ad is the brainchild of pro-Israel advocacy group American Freedom Defense Initiative, which is also one of the most vocal opponents to the construction being planned of a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. The group says that the prayer center is funded by Islamists and would sully the memory of the victims of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.

After the ruling, the group said on its website, “This is a great victory for the First Amendment.” Pamella Geller, the executive director of the group said, “Disallowing a pro-Israel ad was clearly a … politically motivated denial of free speech.”

  
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The group had sued the MTA in September 2011 after the agency denied to carry the ad. The MTA issued a statement saying that it was reviewing the opinion and “is evaluating its existing advertising standards in light of the court’s ruling.”

In reaching its opinion, the court cited the 1998 opinion of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York Magazine v Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where the judge held that advertising space on public buses should be considered a public forum. The judge also said that the ad at issue being core political speech, it was entitled to the “highest level of protection under the First Amendment.”

The opinion said, “By differentiating between which people or groups can and cannot be demeaned on the exterior of a city bus, MTA’s no-demeaning standard … discriminates based on content.”

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