PHILADELPHIA (CN) - Philadelphia's metropolitan bus and train line must allow a group to post ads stating: "Islamic Jew-Hatred: It's in the Quran," with a photo of Hitler and an Islamic leader, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative sued the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) the agency refused to accept ads calling for an end to U.S. foreign aid to all Islamic countries.
U.S. District Judge Goldberg ruled that since SEPTA has allowed other groups to publish political speech, such as ads in favor of teacher seniority or opposed to fracking, it opened up the advertising spaces as venues of expression.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative, an American offshoot of a European anti-Muslim organization, sought to take out the ads in July 2014.
The ads state: "Islamic Jew-Hatred: It's in the Quran[.] Two thirds of all US aid goes to Islamic countries[.] Stop the hate[.] End all aid to Islamic countries."
The ads include of photo of Adolf Hitler allegedly meeting with Muslim nationalist Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was active in pan-Arabism when Palestine was a British territory.
SEPTA rejected the ad, which its general counsel Gino Benedetti said "disparaged Muslims because it portrayed them in a way that I believe was untrue and incorrect and false."
He said the ad "put every single Muslim in the same category as being a Jew hater." Benedetti cited an "anti-disparagement" requirement in SEPTA's advertising policies.
But in preliminarily enjoining SEPTA, Judge Goldberg wrote that the content of the ad "squarely involves political expression and reflects plaintiffs' interpretation of a religious text, both of which are protected speech."
Goldberg found that SEPTA's anti-disparagement standard violated the First Amendment.
"None of SEPTA's advertising standards limit the range of acceptable advertisements to those which contain only commercial or uncontroversial speech," he wrote.
The AFDI, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a hate group, has won similar battles in Washington D.C., New York and San Francisco, where it was allowed to place similar ads.
Last year, the group lost its attempt to trademark the phrase "Stop Islamisation of America," which the Federal Circuit deemed too offensive.
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