US judge allows ‘Killing Jews’ ad on NYC buses: free speech or defamation?

City officials say that the message displayed by the American Freedom Defense Initiative ad is hateful and divisive, but First Amendment lawyers say it cannot be legally banned.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Manhattan ordered that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) display a controversial ad from a pro-Israel group on buses. The MTA declined to run the ad last year, saying that its message could incite violence and terrorism. Now, United States District Court Judge John Koeltl ruled that the ad qualified as protected speech, and granted a preliminary injunction ordering that the transportation authority run it.

The advertisement is paid for by the self-proclaimed human rights group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), and was meant to parody a campaign by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) called “My Jihad.” CAIR’s website states that the My Jihad campaign aims to “take back Islam from Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists alike.” The AFDI ad, meanwhile, shows a menacing looking man wearing a scarf around his head and face. A quote to the man’s right attributed to “Hamas MTV” says, “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah.” Below the quote the ad reads: “That’s His Jihad. What’s yours?”

MTA officials said that the ad could be misinterpreted as a call to violence against Jews, and thus could be banned by an exception to the First Amendment that restricts speech inciting imminent violence.


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