Anti-Jihad advertisements are posted on CTA buses due to First Amendment Rights, despite how offensive they might be.
November 15, 2012
Despite Chicago Transit Authority’s disagreement with the content of an anti-Jihad ad, the CTA buses displayed the ad on Wednesday, sparking reactions from around the country.
Brian Steele, a CTA spokesman, said, “CTA understands that this ad may be offensive to our customers. While the courts have ruled this ad is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, we object to its divisive message.”
The ad, posted by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Copts. Defeat Jihad,” referring to the Egyptian Christian and Islamic conflict.
While Chicago has not faced a lawsuit, Tammy Chase, a CTA spokeswoman, said the display was the agency’s decision based on court precedent. She said there have been customer complaints today and the CTA answered them by explaining why the ads were accepted.
New York and Washington Federal District Courts have already approved the AFDI’s attempt to place the ads, claiming First Amendment Rights to freedom of speech and expression. Transit agencies were deemed public forums by the court, Steele said.
“While those courts agreed that the AFDI ads violate anti-disparagement or anti-demeaning standards similar to CTA’s, that violation in and of itself did not remove AFDI’s First Amendment protection to place the ads,” Steele said.
A Michigan District Court ruled in favor of the local bus authority in restricting a similar ad from the AFDI. The company, Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transit (SMART) has a “Restriction on Content” policy that prohibits “political or political campaign advertising.” The bus company categorized the ad as political advertising. In this case, the transit agency was deemed a nonpublic forum.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion reads, “Since the advertising space on SMART’s vehicles is a nonpublic forum, the content restrictions imposed on that space are constitutional as long as they are reasonable and viewpoint neutral.”
The AFDI is a non-profit organization run by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. It “acts against the treason committed by [government officials and mainstream media]” by forming grassroots and billboard campaigns, according to their website, http://afdi.info/.
The CTA estimates $4,500 in revenue from the ads. They will run for four weeks on the back of 10 buses.