WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge who ordered D.C.’s public transit system to put up pro-Israel ads that equate Muslim radicals with savages said Metro officials voiced reasonable safety concerns but failed to consider other alternatives when they delayed displaying the messages.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer issued a 17-page opinion Friday explaining an earlier decision that ordered Metro to display the ads, which were proposed by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an advocacy organization harshly critical of Muslim radicals and run by blogger Pamela Geller. The judge’s initial ruling came without explanation last week in a one-page order.
The group contracted to display four 43-by-62 inch dioramas on subway platforms with the message: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” The same ads began running last month in some New York subway stations, and after Collyer’s order, went up in a handful of Metro stations this week.
Metro officials had delayed putting up the ads, with officials saying they were concerned the messages could provoke hostile reactions and violent disputes in light of the tumultuous response in the Middle East last month to the video, “Innocence of Muslims,” which denigrated the prophet Muhammad. The organization sued, prompting Collyer’s ruling.
Collyer said she was sympathetic to Metro officials’ safety concerns and agreed that the transit system “certainly presents a compelling government interest in the safety of its passengers and employees.”
But, she said, Metro officials erred in being “too open-ended” in postponing the placement of the ads, a delay “not tied to the waxing or waning of anti-American sentiment or danger and not based on any objective evaluation of necessity.” That decision restricted the group’s First Amendment rights more than was necessary.
She also said Metro had failed to consider displaying the messages in locations other than the subway station platforms and could have distanced itself from the ad’s messages by placing its own disclaimers alongside the anti-jihad ads.
“While, indeed, the contract was for advertising in the illuminated dioramas on subway platforms, a content-neutral and less restrictive answer to concerns about disputes on the platforms would surely have been to put the ads elsewhere in one of (the transit system’s) numerous other advertising venues,” Collyer wrote.
Also on Friday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations announced its own advertising campaign on Metro in response to the anti-Muslim ads. One of the ads quotes the Quran: “Show forgiveness, speak for justice and avoid the ignorant.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)