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August 3, 2015 / 18 Av, 5775
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The MTA’s ‘Demeaning’ Double Standard

It took a federal judge to get New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority to allow ads to run on buses calling for support of Israel against terrorist attacks. Though a year ago the MTA accepted an ad sponsored by an anti-Israel group calling for an end to military aid to Israel, it initially refused to permit display of an ad sponsored by a pro-Israel group that read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man./ Support Israel/Defeat Jihad.”

The MTA rejected the ad, finding that it violated one of the MTA’s written advertising standards that prohibits ads with “information that demean[s] an individual or group of individuals on account of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, age disability or sexual orientation.”

The MTA’s refusal to permit the ad led to a lawsuit brought by the sponsoring group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, claiming a violation of its right to free speech.

An MTA official, Jeffrey Rosen, told the judge that the MTA’s decision was based on its position that the ad used the words “savage” and “Jihad” to identify those who fail to support Israel and this “demeans a group (or groups) of individuals on account of their religion, national origin, or ancestry, including Palestinians or other Arabs or Muslims who do not share AFDI’s views on Israel.”

Though the judge held that the references were reasonably understood to mean Muslims and Arabs, he nonetheless held that the MTA’s “demeaning” standard was too loose and provided no objective guidance as to what was permissible and what was not and allowed the MTA to pick and choose the kind of speech it would allow.

He went on to give examples of ads that were allowed in the past which were clearly uncomplimentary to individuals and groups. This state of affairs was incompatible with the constitutional notion that government may not censor speech, he said.

Those who chafe at the high-handed way New York City officials often take positions in the exercise of their official duties that go out of their way to accommodate and identify with Muslim and Arab sensitivities, should certainly welcome this decision.

Actually, in the light of the recent anti-American rioting in Benghazi, Cairo, Tunis and other Muslim/Arab venues, all Americans should welcome anything that militates against the notion of granting the slightest legitimacy to those outrages and the people who perpetrate them.

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