Law & the Courts

SCOTUS Rejects Challenge to D.C. Metro’s Ban on ‘Issue Oriented’ Ads

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., June 11, 2018 (Erin Schaff/Reuters)

The Supreme Court has declined to hear a challenge brought against the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) ban on subway and bus “issue oriented” advertisements, which was instituted in response to a proposed ad depicting the prophet Muhammad.

The Court issued an unsigned order Monday declining to take up the American Freedom Defense Initiative’s (AFDI) request that the justices intervene to protect its free-speech rights. AFDI, led by activist Pamela Gellar, submitted an ad to WMATA in 2015 that read “Support Free Speech” above an image of the prophet Muhammad that was chosen from a group of submissions entered into their “Draw Muhammad” contest.

In response, WMATA banned all “issue oriented” ads and rejected the AFDI’s submission.

AFDI held an event associated with the “Draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas in May 2015. The gathering, which organizers claimed was intended to serve as a defense of free speech, made national news after two gunmen opened fire on police outside the venue. The gunmen were the only fatalities.

WMATA is also facing another challenge to the ad policy leveled by the Archdiocese of Washington, which tried and failed to run religious ads on the Metro. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in WMATA’s favor in that case last year and the Supreme Court is now considering whether it will take up the Archdiocese’s appeal.

In a similar case brought in 2012, a federal judge required New York and Washington, D.C. transit authorities to accept an ad that read: “In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” AFDI has also won similar lawsuits in New York and Philadelphia.

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