SEPTA’s board of directors today will vote on a new advertising policy that will -- it hopes -- prevent it from forced to run controversial ads like the ones that appeared on buses last month.
Ads that many view as anti-Islamic appeared on 84 SEPTA buses in April following the transit agency’s decision not to continue fighting a lawsuit.
A federal judge ruled in March that SEPTA could not deny ads from the American Freedom Defense Initiative. Those ads alleged that anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in Islamic tradition, as evidenced by a meeting between Hitler and a Palestinian leader.
The contract to run those ads expires this month. Under the policy change, SEPTA will reject all ads that express or advocate “an opinion, position or viewpoint about economic, political, religious, historical or social issue.”
That language means that SEPTA will essentially reject all political advertising to avoid a claim that the transit agency is censoring unpopular or controversial viewpoints.
The policy change was planned in March, when SEPTA announced that it had decided not to appeal the federal judge’s decision that the transit agency could not prohibit the ads.
The agency’s lawyer says any attempt to extend the advertising will be treated as falling under that policy — though he expects a second court fight over the new policy.
“If they seek any more ads we’re going to consider them under the new policy,” said Gino Benedetti said in March.
Pamela Geller, a co-founder of AFDI, said in an interview in March that the group moved to sign an advertising deal immediately after winning in court.
“It should be celebrated by all Americans,” Geller said. “It’s a victory for the First Amendment.”
The AFDI is known for it’s intense focus on the influence of Islam on American Society. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies it as a hate group because if its anti-Muslim sentiment.
A host of interfaith groups said they opposed the ads, but supported free speech. Other experts have said the ads themselves were historically inaccurate and in remarkably ineffective.
SEPTA says the group spent about $30,000 for the ads.