Metro ordered to display pro-Israel ads that it worried might incite violence

October 5, 2012

A federal judge has ordered Metro to begin displaying controversial advertisements on Monday, even though the transit agency has worried the ads might incite violence.

The decision came Friday in a one-page order granting an injunction to a pro-Israel group that sought to force Metro to display provocative posters in four stations. The posters, purchased by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), will say: “In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

A spokesman for the transit agency said in an e-mail that it would comply with the court order. Metro was sued last month by AFDI after trying to delay displaying the advertisements in the wake of violence in the Middle East that was sparked by an Internet video that disparaged the prophet Muhammad.

Metro’s lawyers argued in court papers that displaying the posters would endanger the public. “Faced with the choice between endangering the public by displaying the AFDI Ad when it was likely to cause violence on Metrorail, or delaying the display to avoid the danger to passengers and without impinging on AFDI’s freedom of expression, WMATA chose delay.”

But U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer disagreed and in a one-page ruling ordered the transit agency to run the advertisements. The judge said an opinion explaining her reasoning would follow.

The American Freedom Law Center, a self-described Judeo-Christian nonprofit law firm, filed the suit Sept. 20 on behalf of AFDI in the District’s federal court. The law center, which recently won a similar case in New York, argued that Metro was violating AFDI’s First Amendment rights by postponing the advertising campaign.

“This case is such a strong First Amendment case that they would have no chance on appeal, in my view,” said Robert Muise, senior counsel for the law center. “This is not just a victory for our clients and a victory for the First Amendment; it is a victory for all
freedom-loving Americans.”

In early September, AFDI purchased the advertising space from CBS Outdoor, Metro’s advertising firm. The posters were scheduled to be displayed for a month starting Sept. 24. But a representative of CBS Outdoor e-mailed Pamela Geller, AFDI’s executive director, saying it would delay posting the advertisements “due to the situations happening around the world at this time.”

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