MBTA Wins Court Battle Over Banned Anti-Palestinian Advertisements

A judge called the posters "provocative," and ruled that the T was within its rights to keep them from going up based on prior case law.

Photo via Flickr.com/ bindonlane

Photo via Flickr.com/ bindonlane

The MBTA prevailed in a court battle over the rejection of ‘Pro-Israel’ advertisements that a group wanted to post at some of the busiest stops and stations along the transit system.

According to a 24-page ruling from a U.S. District Court judge, dated December 20, the American Freedom Defense Initiative’s (AFDI) request for an immediate injunction to force the MBTA to put up the advertisements was denied.

The group’s proposed ad read:

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

Officials from the transit agency said they were pleased with the ruling.

“The MBTA is gratified by Judge Gorton’s decision that it acted reasonably in not accepting AFDI’s proposed advertisement,” MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott said in a statement. “We will continue to administer our guidelines even-handedly so that our customers will not be subjected to advertisements that demean or disparage any person or group.”

The dispute and court appearance was a result of a feud between the MBTA and its advertising partner, Titan, and the AFDI, a non-profit organization. In early November, the MBTA refused to accept and post ads submitted by the AFDI, claiming they were “disparaging” and “demeaning,” and were in violation of the advertising guidelines set forth by the T.  After they refused to post what the judge later called “provocative” posters, lawyers from the American Freedom Law Center, a national, Judeo-Christian organization, filed a civil rights lawsuit against the transit agency on behalf of AFDI and two of its members.

The ad that the AFDI wanted to post was in response to a pro-Palestinian poster that the T allowed to go up in October.

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 Titan.

The AFDI claimed that the T’s refusal to put up their counter-advertisement showed that the transit agency was picking sides in the clash between Palestine and Israel, and banning the ad violated their first and 14th amendment rights. On top of the civil rights lawsuit, AFDI’s lawyers also filed the injunction and subsequent restraining order to try and get the agency to immediately display the ads.

Experts weighed in on the court controversy, and said the MBTA would have a tough time proving opposition to the signage was in the public’s best interest.

But a court judge ruled otherwise, and said the MBTA was within its rights under the guidelines set forth in their advertising policy to keep the AFDI’s proposed poster off of the T’s property.

“The court does not discount the fact that the Palestinian Refugee advertisement deeply offends plaintiffs and might offend other members of the community. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a particularly sensitive topic that is likely to arouse strong feelings on both sides of the debate,” the judge wrote. “The MBTA, in deciding to open its advertising program to speech on controversial topics, has taken on the difficult task of determining whether speech on that topic crosses the line from being offensive of hurtful, to being demeaning or disparaging such that it can be excluded from the forum.”

The judge said the case presents a “close call” in that respect, but decided the MBTA did not discriminate by banning the ad.

Boston contacted the lawyers representing the AFDI, but they did not immediately reply.

To read the full court ruling, check out the document below: