Group Sues MBTA In Federal Court For Allegedly Refusing To Put Up Pro-Israel Ads

A battle has ensued between two organizations trying to get their message out to riders.

A non-profit law firm is taking the MBTA to federal court after the transit agency allegedly told their client that they wouldn’t put up signs at stations and stops that take a pro-Israel stance.

The American Freedom Law Center, a national, Judeo-Christian organization, filed a civil rights lawsuit against the T on Monday, in U.S. District Court, on behalf of Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, and their organization, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, claiming the MBTA impeded their clients’ first  and 14th amendment rights.

The proposed advertisement, which the T’s advertising partner, Titan, would not put up, read:

In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.  Support Israel.  Defeat jihad.

According to court documents, in an email to the American Freedom Defense Initiative, Titan said the message was “disparaging” and “demeaning” under their guidelines.

Robert Muise, American Freedom Law Center cofounder and legal counsel, said there is little doubt that the MBTA censored his clients’ pro-Israel advertisement out of a “fear of a backlash from area Muslims and left-wing activists.”

“There is even less doubt that the MBTA’s decision violates our clients’ fundamental right to freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment,” he said.

The lawsuit states that the MBTA has leased its advertising space for political and social commentary advertisements covering a broad spectrum of political views and ideas in the past, and “by policy and practice, the MBTA has created a designated public forum for the display of public service, public issue, and political issue advertisements.”

The American Freedom Law Center’s efforts to have the ads placed around the system were in response to signs that were plastered at T stations and stops last week, which show a shrinking Palestinian landscape.

The MBTA, through its contracted advertising agency, Titan, allowed 80 of those posters to be displayed. After receiving complaints about the message being “anti-Israel,” Titan pulled the ads. They quickly went back up, however, as a result of a “miscommunication” between the MBTA and its contractor, Titan.

Members of the American Freedom Defense Initiative responded to the ads being allowed to stay up by submitting their own pro-Israel message, but on Monday, they were quickly denied. “This is viewpoint discrimination and a violation our first amendment rights. The MBTA may harbor the age-old hate of anti-Semitism and allow it on their transit platforms, but they cannot and will not silence us. They cannot pick and choose what position they prefer,” according to members from the American Freedom Defense Initiative, the group that tried to pay for the ads to be displayed.

The group wanted 10 ads to go up at the busiest transit locations, according to court documents obtained by Boston.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said T officials have reached out to the plaintiffs in the case in an attempt to resolve the matter out of court. “The MBTA is asking that the message be modified to meet the requirements of the MBTA’s advertising standards. 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,” he said.

Muise said the fact that the MBTA accepted the Palestinian advertisement, but censored his clients’ “once again reveals the double standard that too often permeates government agencies nationwide.”

His clients are seeking to recoup attorney fees, costs, and expenses, as well as “nominal damages” for the “past loss of their constitutional rights.”