A pro-Israel group must be allowed to place a paid advertisement on New York City public buses that equates jihadists with savages, a U.S. judge ruled Friday.
The opinion by U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan said a 1997 rule by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that barred demeaning language in advertisements was a violation of free speech.
While the rule was well intentioned, the judge found, it had the effect of discriminating against certain advertisers based on the content of their proposed message.
The advocacy group American Freedom Defense Initiative sued the MTA in September 2011 after the transit agency denied its proposed ad.
The ad said: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel/Defeat Jihad." The ad would have been posted on 318 city buses for four weeks.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative, based in Sherman Oaks, California, has been one of the most vocal opponents to the planned construction of a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.
The group says the prayer center is funded by Islamists and would sully the memory of the 9/11 attack victims.
"This is a great victory for the First Amendment," the group said on its website. "Disallowing a pro-Israel ad was clearly a politically correct, politically-motivated denial of free speech," said Pamela Geller, the group's executive director.
The MTA said it was reviewing the opinion and "is evaluating its existing advertising standards in light of the court's ruling."
The judge said the advertising space on public buses should be considered a public forum. The judge also ruled that because the ad in question was political speech, it was entitled to the "highest level of protection under the First Amendment."
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