Anti-Islamic Bus Ads Coming Soon to SEPTA Buses

Here’s one lawsuit that SEPTA can’t — and shouldn’t — win.


The American Freedom Defense Initiative is a New Hampshire-based anti-Muslim organization aka hate group that also goes by the name Stop Islamization of America. And on Thursday, AFDI filed a lawsuit against SEPTA, because SEPTA won’t let them run the above advertisement on SEPTA buses.

According to the suit, SEPTA refused the ad on the basis that it violated SEPTA’s policy against the “disparagement” or “ridicule” of any “person or group of persons on the basis of race, religious belief, age, sex, alienage, national origin, sickness or disability.”

And AFDI claims that the decision to reject that ad “is a pretext to censor [AFDI’s] message because SEPTA officials oppose [AFDI’s] view on Islam.” And it would then therefore follow, argues AFDI, that SEPTA’s “decision to reject the AFDI advertisement was motivated by a discriminatory animus against [AFDI] and their views on Islam.”

AFDI cites two SEPTA bus advertisements as evidence that the transportation agency’s advertising space has been a forum for religious, political, and public service advertisements in the past.

Here’s a bus advertising Judgment Day, which was to occur on May 21, 2011:


And here’s one promoting a moratorium on teacher seniority:


And, you know what? AFDI makes a pretty good point, at least from a legal perspective.

There’s no questioning the fact that AFDI is an anti-Muslim hate group, but SEPTA is a governmental agency, and part of what makes this country great is that we can’t just censor what someone wants to say just because we don’t like what they’re saying or who they are.

Meanwhile, the AFDI is set to launch different anti-Islamic advertisements next week on 100 buses and two subway entrances in New York City. Here’s what that ad looks like:


In 2012, a federal judge ruled that New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority violated the First Amendment rights of the AFDI when the MTA refused to run the AFDI’s ad that declared “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man… Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

In that case, the judge ruled that AFDI’s advertisement was “not only protected speech — it is core political speech” and determined that it should be “afforded the highest level of protection under the First Amendment.”

Same goes here.

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  • Philatonian

    The ads regarding teachers or “Judgement Day” don’t negatively target a specific demographic. They actively address a religious or political opinion, but it’s aimed at those who agree, not at those with a different belief or opinion.

    • laura r

      our culture is against beheading & we dont support violent attacks. yes we have a different view. we dont want the other view in the US. we want to educate people as to the threat thats out there.

      • Philatonian

        Our culture is not above beheading people. We just do it in the legal realm. We beheaded Hussein. He deserved it. But this ad is anti-Islam, not anti-terrorism. There is a huge difference between Muslims and ISIS. This ad is just trying to muddy the lines and spew hate.

        • laura r

          i understand what you are saying. i suppose the “copy” could be tweaked a bit. there are 1.2 billion muslims, 15% are radical. (stats from several scources including bridget gabrielle). do the math, yes it IS the threat & growing. would you be less offended if the ads had some fine print w/a disclaimer that most muslims are not ISIS or supporters? (i myself would have included that). geller & spencer have helped muslims who were threatened. we know not all take the koran @ face value.

          • Philatonian

            This ad doesn’t ask anyone to take the Quran any way but literally and no one reads fine print. What would you say if an ad was calling to end all aid to Catholic countries because the church harbors pedophiles? Christians would be in an uproar because of the generalization.

          • laura r

            the ads should stress that it is ISIS & related front groups that are the problem. instead of fine print make it medium print. the islamic threat is a bit more than a priest i think. but then again you have your values.

        • Jeremy

          Uh, no we did not behead Hussein…he was hung and he was hung by an Iraqi parliament, ran by an Iraqi judicial system, and executed by an Iraqi…

  • Willy Loman’s Pipe

    I’ve heard people say that Islam is “a religion of peace.” Is it true that Islam is a religion of peace?

    • Jason

      Depends on how you interpret it. Just as any other religion.

    • Presbyton

      Islam’s founder engaged in empire building wars within his lifetime and all of his immediate successors did the same.

      • Oliver

        Yea, and so did Napoleon, a Catholic; Caesar, a Roman; and Hitler, a Catholic/fallen Christian.

        • Presbyton

          None of them are the founders of their faiths. You can claim Mohammad as epitomizing the beliefs of all muslims, because Mohammad defined Islam. The same with Jesus and Paul, or Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. You can’t claim that of Napoleon or Caesar.

          Christianity began as a social movement and no Christian fought a Holy War until this tactic had been used against them by the Caliphates.

          • Byron C Mayes

            “…no Christian fought a Holy War until this tactic had been used against them by the Caliphates.”

            But, they still did it (so much for turning the other cheek) and did it in the name of their religion. Christianity is just like all the other religions.

          • Presbyton

            Only after the idea was suggested to them. Still, I think it says something if, for the first seven hundred years of the faith, Christianity was spread purely peacefully. 700 years is a long time, and it is not surprising that human beings would corrupt its message in that period.

    • Oliver

      Is any religion all peaceful or all violent? It comes down to individuals. People read what they want into their religion. That’s why some Christians think it’s OK to kill abortion providers, even though you don’t find that in the Bible. And some Catholics think sex before marriage is OK, even though it is forbidden by dogma.

      I’ve met a lot of Muslims in my travels. They are as mixed as any other group. I find Arabs especially, even shockingly, welcoming and warm. Indonesians also very funny and delightful. Saudis are more like Americans than Americans realize – they love consuming big cars, big meals and big houses, just like we do! They didn’t want me dead. They wanted me to like them and their countries. We have to stop identifying terrorists by the label terrorists choose. They are not Muslims. They are simply terrorists.

      • laura r

        really? saudis dont allow jews in their country. ask them why & get back to me.


    Clearly a racial and religious demographic is being targeted here. I would go so far as to say it qualifies as illegal, race-baiting hate speech. At the very least it is too ugly to be promoted by a public bus system that employs and provides transportation to the entire community, including a significant group of Muslims.

    • Smove

      Are you sure it’s illegal race-bating hate speech if it’s true? Muslim extremists do indeed want the extermination of the Jewish people. People are up in arms about the rights of the Muslims but what about all the Jews? The sensitivity towards people who want the Jews eliminated is stunning.

      • Jason

        By definition, it is. even if it is the majority, it is still generalization. you could replace the word muslim in your comment with any other demographic + stereotype.

    • ” illegal, race-baiting hate speech”. You have no idea what the First Amendment is or the court decisions that have framed and shaped it over the last 200+ years. To please the court, please cite for me any specific Pennsylvania or Federal law, not overturned and in effect today, that makes hate speech “illegal”. Use the specific bill or statute citation. Go on, I’ll wait.

      • BAMALLM

        I stand corrected. It is not illegal. What remains of former laws against hate speech exists only to protect people from “fighting words” directly that would incite violence, which is not explicitly the case with this ad. It seems that legally, one option is for a public transit entity would be to restrict all advertising to commercial ads only. This approach, however, eliminates public service announcements from non-profits, etc… The only other legal response is more speech… either a counter ad (in the case of AFDI ads it might be a counter ad to the counter ad). The other more common response is defacing the ad. Defacing race-baiting hate speech, however legal, does seem effective.

        • Exactly. Speech is marketplace of ideas. Some win out, some don’t. The best offense for ugly speech is: more speech. Westboro was challenged at the Supreme Court and they won, but their horrible speech had the I intended side effect of pushing more of the neutral population towards LGBT acceptance. Can’t thank WBC enough for their craziness.

  • Mari Tatlow Steed

    These people are idiots. SEPTA has the right to refuse to run any ad they want.

  • thethetk

    Serious question: Is SEPTA a “governmental agency”? It’s some kind of transit authority, but it’s not immediately clear to me that the 1st amendment applies.

    • disqus_JjYnU5MRNk

      Septa is public transit that receives federal funding.

  • thethetk

    Also, the headline is wrong. They MIGHT be coming soon, depending on the outcome of a suit which was only filed yesterday.

  • Oliver

    It seems odd AFDI is taking out ads on or near public transportation rather than billboards or the Yellow Pages. Seems to me they’re baiting bad behavior that might result in a bomb in a subway station or public bus. AFDI is trying to wreak havoc, discord. We all know we live among nuts of all religious affiliations. Why bait them?

    • Jeremy

      Why excuse them? A sane and decent human being would not succumb to “baiting”. Pointing at the individual who utilized their 1A and saying a terrorist attack would be their fault because they baited the person, is akin to pointing at a woman and saying she provoked rape because of how she dressed. No, you are wrong. The reason they take them out on public trans instead of billboards is, well the billboards in NY are FAR from affordable and really…yellow pages? What are we, living in the 80’s still?

  • Student

    Haj Amin al-Husseini was not the “leader of the Muslim world.” Hate groups always need to falsify history in order to make their point.

  • Bodhi

    You lose all credibility when you link to SPLC as an authority on hate groups.

  • CreightonRabs

    So, exposing the truth about these Muslim terrorism groups makes an organization a “hate group”? Typical Philly liberal bias. Perhaps I don’t need to remind you that the 9/11 terrorists were not exactly Scandinavian Protestants. But, since Muslims are considered a “protected group” under this administration, we’re not allowed to point out inconvenient facts that Islamic Terrorism against the US and our allies is a legitimate threat to our national security.