SEATTLE — A Christian legal group has filed suit against the Seattle Transit Authority after it refused to run a bus advertisement out of a fear of offending Muslims.
The American Freedom Law Center, based in Ann Arbor Michigan, is representing the Freedom Defense Initiative, led by Pamela Geller, a Jew known for placing transit ads pertaining to Islam.
Earlier this year, the Joint Terrorism Task Force launched its “Faces of Global Terrorism” ad campaign, displaying wanted ads in various locations throughout the Seattle area. The campaign was part of the Puget Sound Rewards for Justice program, which offers monetary rewards to those who provide “information that helps stop terrorism.” As part of the program, the FBI displayed wanted ads on “highway billboards, airport displays, bus posters and elsewhere.”
However, as previously reported, some individuals lodged complaints about the advertisements, stating that they were “offensive to Muslims.” Representative Jim McDermott of Washington wrote a letter to FBI Director George Mueller last June about the matter. He stated that the advertisements, which feature the photographs of 16 most wanted terrorists, and read, “Stop a terrorist. Save lives. Up to $25 million reward,” may be seen as an insult to Islam.
“The ‘Faces of Global Terrorism’ bus ad … is not only offensive to Muslims and ethnic minorities, but it encourages racial and religious profiling,” he wrote. “I agree that civilian vigilance is important to the fight against extremism. Representing terrorists, however, from only one ethnic or religious group promotes stereotypes and ignores other forms of extremism.”
McDermott contended that the FBI left out terrorists from other ethnic groups and religions, and was therefore running the risk of stirring up animosity against Muslims.
“[T]heir faces are missing from this campaign,” he asserted. “This limited representation in the ‘Faces of Global Terrorism’ bus ad will likely only serve to exacerbate the disturbing trend of hate crimes against Middle-Eastern, South Asian and Muslim Americans.”
However, some groups advised that the full wanted list, which features 32 men, largely consists of Muslims, and that the FBI was therefore not attempting to demonstrate any bias against Islam.
Nonetheless, the government decided to pull the ad due to complaints. Disagreeing with the decision, the American Freedom Defense Initiative submitted a nearly identical ad to the Seattle Transit Authority, but noted that it was paid for by the organization instead of the government.
In August, the transit authority rejected the advertisement, stating that it violated advertising policy. According to the policy, the Seattle officials may refuse advertisements featuring (1) “material that is or that the sponsor reasonably should have known is false, fraudulent, misleading, deceptive or would constitute a tort of defamation or invasion of privacy”; (2) “material that demeans or disparages an individual, group of individuals or entity”; and (3) “material that is so objectionable as to be reasonably foreseeable that it will result in harm to, disruption of or interference with the transportation system.”
But the American Freedom Law Center, which is representing the American Freedom Defense Initiative, says that the Seattle Transit Authority is violating the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the organization.
“It is quite evident based on the fact that King County initially accepted the federal government’s advertisement only to have the feds pull the ad for fear of offending Muslims that King County is now suffering from the quite debilitating disease of political correctness,” Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi stated. “And there is little doubt that King County officials also dislike the messenger—our clients—who are doing a great service by alerting all Americans to the dangers of sharia and its followers.”
The Christian legal organization is now seeking a preliminary injunction, so that the advertisements may be displayed immediately.