A federal district judge in Washington has ordered the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency to post controversial ads with the message, "Support Israel/Defeat Jihad," on First Amendment grounds, over the agency's objection that the ads posed a public safety threat. The ads are now set to go up by 5 p.m. on October 8, per the judge's order (PDF).
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer granted the motion for a preliminary injunction filed by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, the New York-based organization behind the ad. The group had a contract to post the ad in Metro rail stations beginning September 24, but Metro informed the group on September 18 that they were delaying the ads due to public safety concerns. The group sued two days later.
Collyer heard arguments yesterday in the case. She did not issue an opinion explaining her decision at the same time as her order this afternoon, explaining that it would be coming later. Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said that Metro would comply with the order and that the ads would be up by 5 p.m. on October 8. Stessel declined to comment on the substance of the case, referring to court filings.
Lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Robert Muise of the American Freedom Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., said today that "this is a clear victory for the First Amendment, and it's certainly a clear victory for everyone."
The ad reads: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man," with the tag, "Support Israel/Defeat Jihad." Collyer's order comes less than two weeks after the same ad went up in New York subway stations, following a Manhattan federal judge's finding that transit officials there had also violated the First Amendment.
Metro's lawyers had argued that the agency had a "compelling" interest in delaying the ads, noting that they had received at least one threatening e-mail to date and that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had warned that the ads could incite violence.
Muise had countered that Metro's warnings of public safety threats were too vague to justify restricting his client's First Amendment rights. "It's a good day for all Americans," he said today.