A judge ruled that Philadelphia must run bus ads depicting Adolf Hitler & Arab leader Hajj Amin al-Husseini with the tagline “Jew Hatred: It’s in the Quran”
The advertisements were created by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group from New Hampshire that is seeking to remove all US aid that is given to Islamic nations. The organization has fought similar cases in several cities. In San Francisco, similar advertisements were run on public transportation, but they were covered by citizens with images of Marvel’s Muslim superheroine Ms. Marvel.
Beyond the image of Hitler being friendly with a Muslim leader, the advertisement promotes the website IslamicJewHatred.com and claims “Two thirds of all US aid goes to Islamic countries” while encouraging readers to “End all aid to Islamic countries”. At the time of writing this article, the website is down.
After initially receiving the ads in May, SEPTA rejected it claiming that they did not follow the company’s guidelines as it discriminates “on the basis of race, religious belief, age, sex, alienage, national origin, sickness or disability.” The public transit company did not want to run the Hitler ads for fear of encouraging harm to Muslim employees and customers.
US District Judge Goldberg sided with the American Freedom Defense Initiative’s claims that SEPTA had run other advertisements with political speech citing examples that took stances on teacher seniority and fracking. Judge Goldberg claimed the Hitler advertisement “squarely involves political expression and reflects plaintiffs’ interpretation of a religious text, both of which are protected speech.” Moreover, his ruling concluded that SEPTA’s standards violate the First Amendment.
SEPTA spokeswoman, Jerri Williams, announced the company’s disappointment with the judge’s ruling but left open the possibility of continuing the legal battle stating, “We’re currently evaluating our options including whether or not to file an appeal.”
Some reactions to the ruling reflect SEPTA’s disappointment, but many understand the First Amendment implications that influenced the judge’s decision on approving the ads depicting Hitler. Executive director of Philadelphia’s branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Jacob Bender responded to the ruling stating, “These ads are despicable and false but fall under First Amendment protections.” CAIR staff attorney Ryan Tack-Hooper echoed Bender’s sentiment adding, “The First Amendment protects everyone, the hateful and the loving alike. Instead of suppressing dishonest and offensive speech, the American tradition is to respond with speech of our own. You can be sure we will.”