A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), Philadelphia’s public transit service, must accept anti-Islam advertising featuring Adolf Hitler and a prominent 1940s Muslim cleric, the Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting.
The ad in question features a photograph taken at a 1941 meeting between Hitler and Hajj Amin al-Husseini, a Muslim cleric of the time whose radio broadcasts supported the Nazis.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), an advocacy group based in New Hampshire, produced the ad and submitted it for advertising on SEPTA buses last May, but SEPTA denied the ads, claiming their policy prohibits advertising that “disparages” any group “on the basis of race, religious belief, age, sex, alienage, national origin, sickness or disability.”
SEPTA’s general counsel, Gino Benedetti, said via Courthouse News that SEPTA rejected the ad because it “disparaged Muslims because it portrayed them in a way that I believe was untrue and incorrect and false. [The ad] put every single Muslim in the same category as being a Jew hater.”
The AFDI sued, claiming their First Amendment rights to free speech were violated by the decision.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg sided with the AFDI.
“It is clear that the anti-disparagement standard promulgated by SEPTA was a principled attempt to limit hurtful, disparaging advertisements. While certainly laudable, such aspirations do not, unfortunately cure First Amendment violations.”
Judge Goldberg also noted that SEPTA has, in the past, featured issue-based advertising dealing with such matters as fracking, religion, teacher seniority, contraception, and animal cruelty.
The AFDI claimed that their advertising featuring Hitler with an Islamic cleric was “timely… in light of the fact that many Jews (and Christians) are being persecuted in Islamic countries in the Middle East.”
Philadelphia is not the first city whose public transit system has been the focus of anti-Islamic ads. Transit systems in Boston, Seattle, and New York have also featured such ads. The New York ads, according to this Inquisitr report, were particularly controversial for their inclusion of a photo of an ISIS beheading about to take place.
SEPTA spokesperson Jerri Williams said that the agency was “disappointed” with the anti-Islamic ads, but no decision on what steps will be taken moving forward has been reached.