NEW YORK – The nation's largest mass transit system is preparing to ban all political advertising on its subways and buses after a judge ruled that a pro-Israel group was allowed to display an advertisement containing the phrase "Hamas Killing Jews" on New York City buses.
The resolution is expected to pass Wednesday at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's board meeting after the finance committee approved it earlier in the week. The cash-strapped agency says such advertising only accounts for less than $1 million of its annual advertising revenue of $138 million.
"Advertisements expressing viewpoint messages, regardless of the viewpoint being expressed, would no longer be accepted," the MTA's general counsel, Jerome Page, told the committee on Monday.
New York is following in the footsteps of cities including Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, which already have banned political ads on public transit, Page said.
The lawsuit was filed last year by the American Freedom Defense Initiative after the MTA notified the group in August that it would display three of four proposed advertisements but not an ad with the quote "Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah" because it could incite violence. In the ad, a covered face is shown next to the quote, which is attributed to "Hamas MTV." It is followed by the words: "That's his Jihad. What's yours?"
Page said the decision to change MTA policy on advertising was prompted by safety concerns.
"We drew the line when we thought our customers, our employees and the public were in danger," he said. "The judge gave short shrift to those concerns."
The judge stayed the effect of the decision for a month so that it can be appealed. But the change in advertising policy would render an appeal unnecessary.
"Under the First Amendment, the fear of such spontaneous attacks, without more, cannot override individuals' rights to freedom of expression," U.S. District Court Judge John Koeltl said of the ruling.
Outspoken MTA board member Charles Moerdler was supportive of the decision.
"Hateful speech, with its odious appeal to intolerance, is the incendiary that ignites violence and ultimately destroys free and democratic institutions," Moerdler said.
But board member Allen Cappelli argued that, simply because a couple of "hateful people" have tried to abuse the privilege of free speech doesn't justify taking that right away from millions of others.
"I am really sad to see management attempting to go down this road," Cappelli said. "I believe very strongly that the antidote to hateful speech is more free speech."