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Boston Transit Agency Sued Over Ad Rejection

This article is more than 5 years old.

An organization that describes itself as pro-Israel and anti-Islamist has sued Boston's transit agency because it rejected a proposed subway advertisement on the grounds that it was "demeaning or disparaging."

The ad was being funded by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which seeks to combat what it calls the spread of Islamism in the United States. It reads: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel; defeat Jihad."

An example of the contested ad by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. (Pamela Geller/AP)
An example of the contested ad by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. (Pamela Geller/AP)

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials rejected the ad on the basis that it violated their advertising guidelines. They said they would be willing to accept modified ads from the group.

"The MBTA is not opposed to groups expressing their points of view, but it must be done in a respectful manner that recognizes and appreciates the cultural diversity of a public transit environment," MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.

Lawyers for the organization told The Boston Globe they are unwilling to change the advertisement.

"Our clients have no interest whatsoever in changing the advertisement because there is no constitutional basis for the government to make such a demand," said Robert Muise, an attorney with the American Freedom Law Center, a public interest law firm representing the group.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative ads were a response to a different series of ads posted on Boston's subway by a pro-Palestinian group.

That advertisement, which first appeared last month, depicts four maps that purport to show "the Palestinian loss of land" to Israel between 1946 and 2010. Text alongside the maps says: "4.7 million Palestinians are Classified by the UN as Refugees."

It was originally removed from the subway system when the T received complaints, but transportation officials later reversed course.

In a complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, lawyers on behalf of the American Freedom Defense Initiative argued that the T applied its standards of appropriate advertising unequally.

In rejecting the advertisement, the MBTA sought to censor the organization's views, the complaint said.

The decision to return last month's purportedly anti-Israel advertisements "was motivated by a discriminatory animus against those speakers who support Israel in this conflict," the complaint alleged.

This program aired on November 8, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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