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Judge orders NY transportation authority to run 'Killing Jews' ad

US District Judge John Koeltl in Manhattan says ad is protected speech under First Amendment of US Constitution.

April 21, 2015 21:15
1 minute read.
New York

A Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) R-train streaks through the Canal Street subway station in downtown New York. (photo credit: REUTERS)

NEW YORK - A federal judge on Tuesday ordered New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority to display on its buses a controversial ad that refers to Muslims killing Jews, rejecting the argument that the ad could incite terrorism or imminent violence.

US District Judge John Koeltl in Manhattan said the ad from the American Freedom Defense Initiative, referred to by both sides as the "Killing Jews" ad, was protected speech under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

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The judge delayed enforcing his order by 30 days so the state-run MTA could decide whether to appeal his preliminary injunction.

Adam Lisberg, a spokesman for the MTA, said the agency was preparing a response.

The ad portrays a menacing man wearing a scarf around his head and face, includes a quotation "Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah" attributed to "Hamas MTV," and then states, "That's His Jihad. What's yours?"

It also includes a disclaimer that the ad's display does not imply the MTA's endorsement of its views. The MTA, whose buses and subways have been forums for policy debates, has accepted other ads from the American Freedom Defense Initiative.

Koeltl said the MTA did not show that the ad could prompt imminent violence, noting that none occurred when the ad ran in Chicago and San Francisco, or that New York City should be treated differently because it is a more prominent terrorism target.

While saying he was "sensitive" to security concerns, Koeltl said the MTA and Chairman Thomas Prendergast "underestimate the tolerant quality of New Yorkers and overestimate the potential impact of these fleeting advertisements. It strains credulity to believe that New Yorkers would be incited to violence by ads that did not incite residents of Chicago and San Francisco."

David Yerushalmi, a lawyer for the American Freedom Defense Initiative, said the decision follows similar rulings in Washington and Philadelphia.

"There is no question that transit authorities have the right and duty to protect their riders from violence," Yerushalmi said in a phone interview. "They do not have the right to give terrorists or potential terrorists a 'heckler's veto.'"

The case is American Freedom Defense Initiative et al v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority et al, US District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-07928.

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