The MTA voted this morning to ban political ads on the city's subways and buses, after a judge ruled the Authority had to allow an advertisement that referenced "Hamas killing Jews" on buses. The agency's finance committee approved the ban earlier this week, and it will officially take effect today.
“Advertisements expressing viewpoint messages, regardless of the viewpoint being expressed, would no longer be accepted,” the MTA’s general counsel, Jerome Page, said during debate on Monday.“We drew the line when we thought our customers, our employees and the public were in danger. The judge gave short shrift to those concerns.”
The move sparked criticism from several sources concerned that the ban was hampering free speech. “It is unconscionable that you are thinking about barring all political ads from the transit system," said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union.
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows also released a statement decrying what they see as an unnecessary overreach, calling the ban "an unfortunate sacrifice when a middle ground could have been forged" :
The ads now being posted in New York and other major cities metro systems, that foment hatred against Islam, a religion practiced by 20% of the world, are misguided and dangerous. When we forge bridges, live together in interfaith understanding, and nonviolently prevent and resolve conflict - that is when we are successful in this battle and create the peaceful world that we envision as the only viable path to a sustainable future for ourselves and our children.
Our response need not be to close further discourse, but instead to provide opportunities to come together as a community. We, in the name of those who can no longer speak, ask the MTA, politicians, and all residents to consider our wishes along with the wishes of our Interfaith Coalition Partners and work to find a middle ground solution that will be beneficial for all without discontinuing the rights for all organizations to post communications on our subways and buses.
The ads that prompted the lawsuit were commissioned by pro-Israel "activist" Pamela Geller and her American Freedom Defense Initiative, which were blocked by the MTA last year after the authority argued they might incite violence.
Geller argued at the time that the MTA's move was a violation of free speech, and Judge John Koetl last week agreed.
"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 to similar acts," he wrote in his ruling. "This is not to minimize the terror threats to New York City, but those threats do not arise from these fleeting advertisements."