DETROIT – A religious rights legal organization has filed a motion for summary judgment in a Michigan district court, imploring the court to protect the First Amendment rights of a party seeking to run a controversial bus advertisement.
In May of 2010, the Freedom Defense Initiative (FDI)—an organization whose stated mission is to protect human rights and fight against Islamic supremacy and unconstitutional government—submitted an advertisement for display on a Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) bus. SMART is a public transit agency with routes throughout the Detroit metropolitan area.
The advertisement was a promotion of RefugeFromIslam.com, which is a page on FDI’s website that offers help and advice to individuals seeking to leave Islam. The ad had the following message: “Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got Questions? Get Answers!”
Even though SMART had recently permitted an openly atheistic bus ad (“Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”), a pro-homosexual ad (“Knowing your HIV status before you get down: that’s sexy.”), and other ads supporting various campaigns, the transit agency refused to authorize the FDI poster, arguing that the ad’s message was too “political” in nature and “scornful” to Muslims.
According to reports, FDI’s “leaving Islam” banner was only the third advertisement SMART has rejected due to political reasons. Of the other two rejected messages, one was from an atheist organization and said, “Don’t believe in Muhammed? You are not alone.” The other forbidden promotion was sponsored by Rachel’s Vineyard—a ministry that seeks to help grieving women heal from the pain of abortions.
Soon after the “leaving Islam” ad was rejected by SMART, FDI filed a lawsuit against the transportation agency, arguing that the refusal to facilitate the message was unconstitutional and was markedly a bias against their organization. This initial lawsuit, filed in mid-2010, has led to months of back-and-forth court proceedings between the bus agency and the FDI.
“This case involves a political organization’s attempt to promote their political agenda by placing anti-Islamic political advertisements on SMART buses that operate throughout southeast Michigan,” SMART officials argued in a 2010 legal statement. “Such political advertisements are in violation of SMART’s established, consistently applied and viewpoint neutral advertising policy, and, as such, were properly prohibited.”
However, in a Friday press release, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC)—a national Judeo-Christian law firm—announced that they have filed a motion for summary judgment in this case with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The 38-page legal paper argues that, as a government agency, SMART illegally violated FDI’s constitutional rights by denying their bus advertisement on the basis of “viewpoint discrimination”—an “egregious form of content discrimination that is prohibited in all forums.”
“In light of the record evidence,” AFLC’s press release explains, “AFLC argued in its brief filed with the court that while [SMART officials] contend that they have a constitutionally valid ‘political’ speech restriction, the undisputed facts demonstrate beyond cavil that there is no such coherent ‘guideline.’ Rather, this restriction is in effect and as applied an arbitrary, capricious, and subjective ad hoc decision.’”
In the release, David Yerushalmi of the AFLC concluded that SMART’s advertising policy inconsistencies comprise a “blatant violation” of free speech rights.
“SMART apparently has no problem disparaging people of faith, such as Christians or Jews, or displaying lewd advertisements to a captive audience that includes young children,” he stated. “Yet, these same government officials have the chutzpah to censor our client’s public service message because it is allegedly ‘political’ and ‘scornful’ toward Muslims. Such discrimination is a blatant violation of our clients’ core freedoms protected by the Constitution.”
The Michigan district court has yet to respond to AFLC’s legal motion.