Monday, December 4, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

1st Amendment Protects Anti-Jihad Ads on Buses

(CN) - A group opposed to radical Islam - and some say Muslims, in general - won an injunction to run anti-jihad ads on public buses in Michigan.

U.S. District Judge Denise Hood of Detroit said the local transportation authority's efforts to block the ads constituted a First Amendment violation.

American Freedom Defense Initiative was founded to "go on the offensive when legal, academic, legislative, cultural, sociological, and political actions are taken to dismantle our basic freedoms and values," according to its website. The group, and its founders, made headlines last year by criticizing the proposed construction of a Muslim community center near the former site of the World Trade Center.

Around the same time, it filed suit against the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART), which subsidizes its public transportation service in four Michigan counties through advertisements.

Claiming that the ban was arbitrary and in violation of its constitutional rights, AFDI argued its original complaint that "the treason being committed by national, state, and local government officials, the mainstream media, and others in their capitulation to the global jihad and Islamic supremacism, the ever-encroaching and unconstitutional power of the federal government, and the rapidly moving attempts to impose socialism and Marxism upon the American people."

SMART countered that the ads are political, anti-Islamic and are restricted in its contract with CBS Outdoor, which acts as SMART's advertising agent. SMART says it cannot accept political advertisements that are "likely to hold up to scorn and ridicule of a group of persons," according to the ruling.

The AFDI noted that the transportation authority had previously run an atheist group's ad that said: "Don't believe in God? You're not alone."

Though SMART argued that the atheist ad is "purely religious," Hood pointed out that there is no language in place to "delineate what renders an advertisement as 'purely religious,' as opposed to political or likely to hold up to scorn or ridicule any person or groups of persons."

Viewing SMART's advertisements as a nonpublic forum, Hood continued that "there is nothing in the policy that can guide a government official to distinguish between permissible and impermissible advertisements in a non-arbitrary fashion."

A marketing program manager also testified in court that the AFDI's ad was not political.

"Such an inconsistency illustrates the arbitrary decision-making allowed under Defendant SMART's policy," Hood wrote.

The judge also rejected SMART's argument that it may suffer financial harm if bus riders boycott them because of the ad. "The Court finds that the Plaintiffs' likelihood of success, the potential harm to Plaintiffs, and the potential harm to the public interest outweigh the speculative harm to SMART," according to the ruling.

Hood also dismissed SMART's fear that the advertisement "could 'further racial tensions, increase violence, and create untold other negative reactions.'" Such reasoning could "conceal a bias against the viewpoint advanced by the excluded speakers," she wrote, quoting the Supreme Court opinion for Cornelius v. NAACP.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.