Friday, July 20, 2012

A Huge Win For Pam Geller And For 1st Amendment Rights

New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority(MTA) ran an ad on the sides of their buses demonizing Israel's IDF and identifying the 'Palestinians' as being on the side of “peace and justice.”

In response, New York activist, author and blogger Pam Geller's group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) put together the above ad and raised funds to run it in a similar fashion.

The MTA,which was perfectly happy to run th epro-Palestinian ad rejected the AFDI's ad out of hand on the grounds it was “demeaning” to certain if the pro Palestinain ad wasn't!

So Geller and the AFDI sued the MTA in federal court, claiming discrimination under the Ist Amendment.

Today, the verdict came back and Judge Federal Judge Paul A. Engelmayer, sitting in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the MTA had clearly violated the AFDI's First Amendment rights and Geller and her group one on all counts.

From Judge Englemeyer's opinion:

As a threshold matter, the Court notes that the AFDI Ad is not only protected speech—it is core political speech. The Ad expresses AFDI’s pro-Israel perspective on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in the Middle East, and implicitly calls for a pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy with regard to that conflict….

It proscribes ads that demean a person or group on account of one of nine enumerated subjects: “race, color, religion,
national origin, ancestry, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation.” But, outside of these “specified disfavored topics,” R.A.V., 505 U.S. at 391, MTA’s standard permits all other demeaning ads.

… MTA’s standard permits ads that demean individuals or groups based on a host of circumstances and characteristics—including place of residence, personal history, education, occupation or employment, physical characteristics (other than disability), political affiliation, union membership, point of view, or behavior….

To illustrate the point concretely, under MTA’s no-demeaning standard, an advertiser willing to pay for the privilege is today at liberty to place a demeaning ad on the side or back of a city bus that states any of the following: “Southerners are bigots”; “Upper West Siders are elitist snobs”; “Fat people are slobs”; “Blondes are bimbos”; “Lawyers are sleazebags”; or “The store clerks at Gristedes are rude and lazy.” The regulation also does not prohibit an ad that expresses: “Democrats are communists”; “Republicans are heartless”; or “Tea Party adherents are barbaric.” The standard would also countenance an ad that argues: “Proponents [or opponents] of the new health care law are brain-damaged.” Strikingly, as MTA conceded at argument, its no-demeaning standard currently permits a bus ad even to target an individual private citizen for abuse in the most vile of terms….

By differentiating between which people or groups can and cannot be demeaned on the exterior of a city bus, MTA’s no-demeaning standard, like St. Paul’s ordinance, discriminates based on content….

In so many words, the buses are public forums, and not only was the MTA suppressing protected political speech but it had inconsistently applied its own standard by allowing the pro-Palestinian ad while rejecting the AFDI's.

“In light of that, disallowing a pro-Israel ad was clearly a politically correct, politically motivated denial of free speech,” said Pamela Geller, Executive Director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative. “As such, Judge Engelamyer’s decision is crucial not just for AFDI and the MTA, but for the freedom of speech in general. The AFDI case has set a key legal precedent for the freedom of speech and won a great victory for the First Amendment.”

Geller added: “The freedom of speech is increasingly threatened in the U.S. in recent years -- the Left and Islamic supremacists are doing all they can to rule honest discussion of Islamic jihad violence and Jew-hatred out of the realm of acceptable public discourse. Judge Engelmayer has struck a huge blow against this sinister authoritarian effort and for the freedom of speech that is the cornerstone of all our freedoms. Truth will not be suppressed or embargoed.”

In view of the insane blowback to members of Congress for even suggesting that prominent members of the Obama Administration with close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood answer a few questions and have those ties investigated, Geller definitely has a point.

Even better, the ad will now be running on MTA buses an dafter this verdict, the MTA will be paying a good part of the cost itself.

Poetic justice, that.

The fear of Muslim violence doesn't quite trump the Constitution - at least, not yet.

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