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Court Says Anti-Terrorist Ads Can Go on Public Buses

By William Vogeler, Esq. on October 01, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A federal appeals court said an anti-Muslim group has a constitutional right to identify terrorists in advertisements on public buses.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said King County, which had banned the ads, violated the First Amendment. The group wanted to place an ad with the names and faces of 16 alleged terrorists.

In American Freedom Defensive Initiative v. King County, the appeals court gave the plaintiffs a win in a First Amendment war. They needed it because they lost the last battle on the constitutional front.

"Faces of Global Terrorism"

AFDI, with Pamela Geller as its president, had sued King County Metro after the transit agency rejected an ad called "Faces of Global Terrorism." Photographs showed people of Middle Eastern and Asian descent.

The metro said the placards violated advertising policies against false, demeaning, or disparaging statements. It also said the content disrupted the transit system.

A trial judge upheld the county, leading to the Ninth Circuit. The appeals court said the "disparagement comments" policy was discriminatory.

"Metro emphasizes that the disparagement clause applies equally to all proposed ads: none may give offense, regardless of its content," Judge Susan Graber wrote. "But the fact that no one may express a particular viewpoint -- here, giving offense -- does not alter the viewpoint-discriminatory nature of the regulation."

Viewpoint Discrimination

The reversal was a victory for the plaintiffs, who lost a similar case in the DC Circuit. In American Freedom Defense Initiative v. Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, the appeals court ruled against anti-Mulsim ads on buses.

In that case, Geller had submitted an ad featuring a "Draw Muhammad" contest with a tie-in to a Texas shooting. When the Washington DC transit authority declined her ad, she lashed out:

"These cowards may claim they are making people safer but I submit to you the opposite," she said. "They are making it far more dangerous for Americans everywhere."

The DC Circuit ruled the metro's policy was content-neutral and upheld its decision.

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