Ads that many view as anti-Islamic will appear on 84 SEPTA buses in April following the transit agency’s decision not to continue fighting a lawsuit.
A federal judge ruled earlier this month that SEPTA could not deny ads from the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which contained images of Adolf Hitler meeting with an Islamic leader.
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Pamela Geller, a co-founder of AFDI, says 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.”
That victory could be short lived, the agency says. In response to the ads, SEPTA changed it’s advertising policy to forbid political and issue-advertising. 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.
Religious leaders and advocacy groups condemned the message behind the ads, but said they supported free speech.
“I think it’s a sad day for the city of Philadelphia when thousands of Muslim schoolchildren who take SEPTA transportation each day will be forced to read ads in which their faith is disparaged,” said Jacob Bender, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Philadelphia. “On the other hand, CAIR, as a civil rights organization firmly supported the judge’s decision.”
SEPTA says the group spent about $30,000 for the ads, which will appear on buses all around the city. The agency is warning people not to vandalize buses.
Unclear is what will happen to employees who refuse to drive the buses. Benedetti said the agency will have a “level of understanding” toward employees who don’t want to drive the buses because of their beliefs or concern for their safety.
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.