Federal judge forces NYC subway to post 'The Muslims are Coming!' ads

The MTA had rejected the ads on the grounds that they represented political speech. Judge Colleen McMahon disagreed.

Carlo Allegri/Reuters
People are photographed through the window as they ride the D train subway heading toward Coney Island in the Brooklyn borough of New York October 3. A federal judge on Wednesday overturned the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's decision to prohibit ads for an upcoming documentary about Muslim-American comedians.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Board has banned political ads on New York City subways and buses, but does that include comedy?

On Wednesday a federal judge overturned an MTA block against advertisements for a documentary about American Muslim comedians. The judge stated that the transportation agency erroneously labeled them political in nature.

The ads in question were for a 2013 film “The Muslims Are Coming!” After previously being accepted, the ads were rejected this year by the MTA, who oversees the nation’s largest mass public transit system in New York. The MTA Board stated the ads violated a new ban on political ads.

Judge Colleen McMahon disagreed.

“The evidence before the group plainly indicates that VQP’s silly advertisements were subject to greater scrutiny than other potentially controversial ads,“ the judge wrote.

According to the Associated Press, the judge called it “utterly unreasonable” to arbitrarily decide an advertisement with the word “Muslims” was political.

The ads created by Muslim-American comedians Dean Obeidallah and Negin Farsad aimed at making people laugh and spreading word of their documentary.

One ad read, “Muslims hate terrorism! They also hate: People who tell you they went to an Ivy League school within 10 seconds of meeting them… When the deli guy doesn’t put enough schmear on your bagel… the pickling of everything.”

The url of a website promoting the film was feature at the bottom of each of the advertisements. 

“Shutting down a couple of American Muslim comedians from spreading delightfulness on the subway? That never made sense,” Mr. Farsad told the AP.

The MTA Board voted in April to ban political ads from the subway and buses. Dissenting members and advocacy groups argued for free speech and the capacity for the advertising spaces on the subways to act as a forum for political discourse. The MTA board decision was prompted by legal challenges it had in rejecting some adds.

The week before the MTA Board decision to ban political ads, the MTA was ordered by a federal judge to display a controversial ad linked to a self-proclaimed advocacy group The American Freedom Defense Initiative. The ad featured a quote attributed to “Hamas MTV” that says, “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah.”

In the case of the “The Muslims are Coming!” advertisements, Judge McMahon wrote, “the advertisements at issue gently mock prejudice and employ Islamophobia as a comedic device does not make their message ‘prominently or predominantly’ political.”

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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