Muhammad Cartoon Ad Blocked From D.C. Buses and Train Stations

Steven Nelson, US News, May 28, 2015

The mass transit authority that oversees commuter buses and trains in the nation’s capital is banning issue-oriented ads for the remainder of the year after receiving an ad proposal featuring a cartoon of Muhammad, Islam’s central figure.

The cartoon is a sketch by artist Bosch Fawstin of a turban-wearing, sword-wielding man saying “You can’t draw me!” It won a “draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas, that was unsuccessfully attacked by Muslim-American roommates earlier this month.

The ads would have sported a banner saying “Support Free Speech.”

Pamela Geller, the activist who made the advertising request and hosted the Garland event through her group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, says the decision is “an end run around the First Amendment.”

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The board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority made the decision Thursday afternoon and plans to enforce the ban until completion of a review of its policies.

Metro spokesman Mike Tolbert says the board’s vote was unanimous and that members did not specifically discuss any ad. The transit authority will consider the legal and safety issues involved in running political ads during its review, he says. It’s not immediately clear what will happen to existing ads that may be considered issue-oriented.

Without the broad ban, Washington-area officials likely would have been forced to publish the Muhammad cartoon.

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In April, she won a federal court ruling that New York City’s subway system must carry anti-Hamas ads that attribute the quote ““Killing Jews is worship” to the Palestinian group. U.S. District Judge John Koeltl found no evidence the ads “would be likely to incite imminent violence.” In March, a federal judge forced Philadelphia’s mass transit system to allow ads that say “Islamic Jew-Hatred: It’s in the Quran.”

In New York, transit authorities recently banned all political advertising to ward off future controversies.

It’s unclear if opponents of such a viewpoint-neutral ban could prevail in court or if Geller will sue.

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