NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – A pro-Israel advocacy group known for publicly criticizing Islam can display its political advertisement containing the phrase “Hamas Killing Jews” on New York City’s buses, a judge said.
Judge John Koeltl said in a decision made public Tuesday that the advertisement is protected speech.
He said he was sensitive to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s claim that the ad could incite violence and appreciates the efforts necessary to prevent violent attacks.
But he noted that substantially the same advertisement ran in San Francisco and Chicago in 2013 without incident. He added that examples of violent attacks cited by the MTA show that individuals may commit heinous acts without warning.
“Under the First Amendment, the fear of such spontaneous attacks, without more, cannot override individuals’ rights to freedom of expression,” Koeltl said in a ruling dated Monday. He stayed the effect of the decision for a month so it can be appealed.
MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said the agency is disappointed in the ruling and is reviewing its options.
It came in a lawsuit filed last year by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an organization headed by blogger Pamela Geller that’s behind the advertisement.
David Yerushalmi, a lawyer for the organization, said the decision “sends a strong message both to government bureaucrats who would restrict our freedom of speech based upon what they perceive to be a global jihadist threat, and it also sends a telling message to our enemies abroad and at home: Their threats of violence will not prevent the courts from upholding the First Amendment.”
The lawsuit said Geller’s group buys the advertisements to express its message on current events and public issues ‘including issues such as Islam’s hatred of Jews.”
“If you’re going to redact the First Amendment based upon the perceived threat of violence from New York Muslims, as the MTA considered, or anyone else, you’re going to be sued in court and you’re going to lose,” Yerushalmi told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman.