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New York Times: “M.T.A. Must Run Bus Ad From Pro-Israel Group, Judge Says”

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A good solid piece on our free speech win today, from the New York Times.

“M.T.A. Must Run Bus Ad From Pro-Israel Group, Judge Says,” By Emma G;

A federal judge in Manhattan on Tuesday ordered the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to display an ad from a pro-Israel group on buses after the agency declined to run it last year.

The group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, sued the authority in October, saying it had infringed on the group’s First Amendment rights by rejecting the ad. The authority had argued that the ad could be seen as a call to violence against Jews.

The ad shows a man with a scarf across his face next to the words, “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah,” attributed to “Hamas MTV.” Below that, it reads: “That’s his Jihad. What’s yours?”

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The judge, John G. Koeltl, of United States District Court, ruled that the ad qualified as protected speech and granted a preliminary injunction ordering the transportation authority to run the ad. He said the order would not take effect for 30 days so the agency could consider whether it would appeal the decision.

“While the court is sensitive to the M.T.A.’s security concerns, the defendants have not presented any objective evidence that the ‘Killing Jews advertisement’ would be likely to incite imminent violence,” Judge Koeltl wrote in the order.

The judge noted that a similar ad ran in Chicago and San Francisco in 2013 without incident.

Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, called the ruling a “triumph for liberty and truth.” The group initially planned to run the ad with others as part of a campaign. Ms. Geller said she would now buy more ad space on more buses since it was running alone.

A spokesman for the authority, Adam Lisberg, said in a statement that the agency was disappointed by the ruling and would review its options.

The set of ads was intended to parody a “My Jihad” campaign by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Those “My Jihad” ads portrayed jihad as a concept of nonviolent individual and personal struggle.

Ms. Geller’s group successfully sued the authority in 2012 over another ad that the agency eventually had to run. In that case, a federal judge ruled that the authority had violated the group’s First Amendment rights.

Judge Koeltl, in his order on Tuesday, said that there was no evidence that seeing one of the ads on the back of a bus would prompt a violent reaction.

“The defendants underestimate the tolerant quality of New Yorkers,” he wrote, “and overestimate the potential impact of these fleeting advertisements.”

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