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.