The MTA’s effort to ban political ads in stations and buses after it had to put up controversial messages sparked a First Amendment debate at the agency’s board meeting Monday.
In support of the proposed policy, MTA board member Charles Moerdler gave a fiery denunciation of the ads against Islam and recent ones criticizing U.S. military aid to Israel for occupying “stolen” land.
“The filth and incendiary vitriol to which we must otherwise subject our riders, including our children is intolerable and must not continue,” Moerdler said.
Board member Jonathan Ballan offered support for a more robust reading of free speech protections.”You’re cramping down on political speech,” he said.
The MTA lost all three cases when it tried to ban certain “viewpoint” ads. The most recent loss was last week’s order from a federal judge making the MTA put up an ad from the American Freedom Defense Initiative that features a scarfed man with the quote, “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us closer to Allah” and “What’s your jihad?”; MTA had rejected the ad for fear it would incite violence.
MTA general counsel Jerome Page said the goal of the new policy is to maximize ad profits “while enabling the MTA to exclude disruptive and controversial viewpoint advertising, which adversely affects our mission.”
David Yerushalmi, an attorney for blogger Pamela Geller and director of AFDI, the group behind the ads, called the MTA’s proposed policy “constitutionally suspect.”
“It requires a government bureaucrat to decide what is a ‘disputed opinion’ and what is not and then to forbid the ‘disputed opinions,’” Yerushalmi said in a statement to amNewYork. “That is classic viewpoint censorship and unconstitutional in any forum.”