Look at the media frenzy a couple of ads on a bus generates. That, in and of itself, indicates how far down the rabbit hole we have gone.
The religious freedom bus campaign is the lead story on every local New York TV station. I did five interviews today, with CBS, NBC, WPIX, and FOX, and will be on FOX and Friends tomorrow morning.
AP – In this undated image provided by Pamela Geller, the
artwork that her organization 'Stop Islamization …
NEW YORK – The questions on the ads aren't subtle:
Leaving Islam? Fatwa on your head? Is your
family threatening you?
A conservative activist and the organizations she
leads have paid several thousand dollars for the ads to run on at least
30 city buses for a month. The ads point to a website called RefugefromIslam.com,
which offers information to those wishing to leave Islam, but some Muslims are calling the ads a smoke screen for an
Geller, who leads an organization called Stop Islamization of
America, said the ads were meant to help provide resources for Muslims
who are fearful of leaving the faith.
"It's not offensive to Muslims, it's religious
freedom," she said. "It's not targeted at practicing Muslims. It doesn't
say 'leave,' it says 'leaving' with a question mark."
Geller said the ad buy cost about $8,000, contributed
by the readers of her blog, Atlas Shrugs, and other websites. Similar
ads have run on buses in Miami,
and she said ad buys were planned for other cities.
Transportation Authority officials said Geller's ad was reviewed
and did not violate the agency's guidelines.
"The religion in question would not change the
determination that the language in the ad does not violate guidelines,"
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said Wednesday.
All ads are screened, MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan
said. Most are reviewed by the company that handles the MTA's
advertising opportunities, but some are sent to the MTA for ultimate
Last month, Miami-Dade Transit pulled the ads from 10
buses after deciding they "may be offensive to Islam," according to The Miami Herald. But
the agency decided to reinstall them after reviewing the ads with the
county attorney's office.
The county decided "although they may be considered
offensive by some, they do not fall under the general guidelines that
would warrant their removal," Transit spokesman Clinton Forbes told the
Glenn Smith, a professor at California Western School of Law in San Diego, said
discriminating against the ads could result in First Amendment issues for the city.
While people may find the content objectionable,
courts have ruled that the First Amendment requires Americans to put
up with "a lot of unenlightened and objectionable messages," he said.
"It's sort of the price of keeping government out of
the marketplace of ideas," he said.
Volokh, a First
Amendment expert at UCLA School of Law, said the ads could
leave some Muslims reluctant to ride the bus. There could also be a risk
that some extremist
groups might bomb the buses, although that possibility wouldn't
limit free speech rights, he said.
The agency had received no complaints since the ads
went up on May 14, MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said. The 30 or so buses
with the ads pass through all five boroughs of the city.
Council member Robert Jackson, a Muslim, said he had not
seen the ad. But he questioned the criteria the MTA uses in determining
what is appropriate.
He also takes issue with the content. He doesn't
believe anyone is being forced to stay in a religion, especially in
America, which was built on religious freedom.
"I think this is a campaign by the extreme right,
those that are against the Muslim religion," he said. "Quite frankly,
I would think the average New Yorker would take it for what it's
Faiza Ali, of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said
the ads were based on a false premise that people face coercion to
remain with Islam. She said Muslims believe faith that is forced is not
"Geller is free to say what she likes just as concerned community
members are free to criticize her motives," Ali said.
Geller has a history of speaking out against Muslims, and the ads are "a
smoke screen to
advance her long-standing history of anti-Muslim bigotry," Ali said.
Geller said she had no problem with Muslims, but was working to
"maintain the separation of mosque and state." She is also among those
speaking out against the building of a mosque and cultural center near
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