D.C. Metro Bans All Political Ads Rather Than Run Mohammed Cartoon Poster
The agency that runs Washington D.C.'s mass transit has banned all political ads after Pamela Gellar attempted to run an advertisement featuring a drawing of Mohammed.
In response to an effort by blogger Pamela Gellar to place an advertisement connected to the “Draw Mohammed” contest in Garland, Texas that was attacked by two gunmen last month, the authority that runs Washington, D.C.’s subway and bus lines has decided to ban all political advertising:
WASHINGTON — Officials in Washington said on Friday that they had suspended all issue-oriented advertising in the public transit system because of fears that granting a request to display a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad would make the region’s buses and trains “a target.”
The ban, which will remain in effect through the end of the year, came a month after New York officials put a similar prohibition in place. Both transit systems acted after ads were submitted by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a pro-Israel group that has placed provocative ads critical of Islam on buses and trains across the country.
The ad that the group sought to display in Washington featured a cartoon originally drawn for a contest this month in Garland, Tex., where two gunmen were shot and killed after opening fire on the police. The image shows a cartoonist drawing a sword-brandishing Muhammad who says, “You can’t draw me!”
“That’s why I draw you,” the cartoonist responds. The words “support free speech” are written in red block letters at the top of the ad.
Jack Evans, a City Council member who is also on the board of directors of the transit system, said that buses or trains with images of Muhammad could present a danger to passengers.
Pamela Geller, the president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, called the actions in Washington “cowardly” and said she planned to pursue legal action.
“They are rewarding terror with submission,” Ms. Geller said. “The message is, terror works.”
Ms. Geller said that the decision in New York in April most likely inspired Washington’s step. “The New York move was chilling,” she said. “You see Washington literally followed suit.”
The ad in question is connected to the Garland shooting in that it happens to be the winning ad from the contest that was being held on the day of the shootings:
This isn’t the first time that Gellar has found herself in the middle of a dispute like this. In the past, she has been involved in litigation with authorities in New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, and elsewhere when they refused to run advertisements that can be described as “anti-Muslim.” In each case, Gellar was successful simply because the authorities in question were banning her ads based solely on the content and, since they generally accepted political advertisements from other organizations, meaning that their refusal to accept Gellar’s ads were an impermissible content-based ban on speech. If these transportation authorities were privately run, of course, this would not be an issue but because they are government entities the First Amendment quite simply forbids them from banning speech such as Gellar’s based solely on its content.
Washingon, D.C. believes that it has found a way around this restriction, though, by issuing a blanket ban on all political speech. While this does make their action different from what we’ve seen in other jurisdictions, I’m not sure that they will fare very well in Court should Gellar decide to challenge it. A ban on all issue-oriented speech doesn’t really strike me as being functionally different from a decision not to run Gellar’s ad while allowing other political advertisements. In both cases, WMATA is banning speech based on content, it just happens to be the case that they are now banning a broader category of speech than they otherwise would have been had they just refused to run Gellar’s advertisement. If the decision had been to get rid of all advertising, then perhaps the authority would be in a a stronger position legally, but a ban on one form of speech is still a content-based ban on speech, and it’s unlikely to get a good reception from a Federal Judge.
Asked about the reasoning behind the decision, one District of Columbia political leader specifically cited alleged threats to safety that Gellar’s proposed would represent as one of the reasons the board did what it did:
Former D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who served 12 years as a member of the Metro system’s board of directors and twice as its chairman, says he can’t recall a similar advertising suspension.
“It’s obviously a way for them to avoid this very challenging issue,” Graham says. “By stopping all ads they’re able to say they’re doing it in a way that doesn’t [target] this one ad.”
Graham says he instinctively supports people’s freedom to advertise controversial messages, recalling his fight to place HIV awareness ads in the D.C. system in the early days of the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s.
But he says current board members are “obviously in a bind because we know what happens when you criticize Muhammad, we know how some people react to that. I don’t think we ever had a situation [in the past] where someone threatened to blow up a bus.”
Graham says he’s not aware of any credible threat in response to the ad, but that, “We know worldwide what has happened to others who have gone down this path.”
Eugene Volokh found Graham’s words to be alarming:
I sympathize with the Metro officials; they have responsibilities to their passengers, and their employees, and they’re trying to keep them safe. That’s a natural and often laudable human reaction.
But the consequence is obvious: We have come to the point, as Americans, that “we know what happens when you criticize Muhammad, we know how some people react to that” — and therefore the thugs get to veto what images get displayed in public places. And of course the danger of attack is potentially present in all public places, not just buses but university campuses, bookstores, and pretty much anywhere else. Our birthright as Americans is being slowly blocked, by institution after institution, because of the reaction (individually reasonable as it might seem) to those who are willing to use violence to suppress speech they dislike.
And of course there’s little reason to think such a thug’s veto would stop with this speech.
Volokh is, of course, absolutely right. The fact that some fanatics might be tempted to do something because WMATA ran the ad that Gellar is proposing really ought to be irrelevant. Giving in to threats like that would be establishing the “heckler’s veto,” and as Volokh notes it would inevitably lead to a ratcheting up of the situation to the point where the lunatics are the ones who have control over what people can say and where they can say it. Moreover, the ad that Gellar was proposing to run here is fairly mild and less provocative compared to some of the ads that she has sought to run in other cities over the past several years. Arguably, the ad is exactly what Gellar and the cartoonist are saying it is, a statement about freedom of speech and freedom of expression rather than an attack on Islam itself. In that sense, it’s directly comparable to the Danish Mohammed cartoons, the death of Theo Van Gogh, and the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Moreover, as I’ve said before, even if this proposed ad cover be considered “hate speech,” there is no distinction between “hate speech” and freedom of speech. Giving in to threats that haven’t even been made like WMATA did is nothing short of cowardly, and if they’re sued they deserve to lose spectacularly.
I say run the ad’s…and require Geller to ride around on the bus during hours that are widely publicized. Let’s see her put herself in harms way, and not cops or innocent commuters, if she is such a fighter and hero for Freedom of Speech.
Geller is deliberately trying to incite a small number of radicals in order to condemn all of Islam.
Comparing her to Theo Van Gogh or Charlie Hebdo is a friggin’ insult.
**sigh** This is why we can’t have nice things, people……..
Geller is probably the only person who is more of a bigoted ass than Mike Hukabee.
Better yet, wear it as a T-shirt for a year straight every time she’s in public. Money where your mouth is, Pam.
I would normally agree with Doug 100%. I do not like being silenced or have to moderate my tone because some people are psycho. But I am also aware some people are psycho and do not want to deal with their psycho-ness. Therefore, just because I can doesn’t mean I don’t have to – it’s a choice. It’s a choice I made but I’ll be damned if I have to suffer consequences because idiots like Gellar have to flag down the bull.
Didn’t think, C, you’d mind a suggested rewrite.
You’re absolutely right about Van Gogh and Charlie Hebdo. Whatever our host’s level of free speech absolutism, let’s not pretend that Ms. Geller is displaying any courage or that she is motivated by high minded concern for free speech.
The cartoon that won may be the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s like something a pretty dull 12-year old boy would do. What the hell were the other cartoons like?
The idea that there’s something cowardly about not running it is far-fetched. Commutes are public space. Objectively speaking, this ad and the people who placed it are mindless bigots who have been happy to protest mosques being built and operas being put on, and it shows in the idiocy of the cartoon. The terrorists this would draw are the bargain-basement variety, but it also might cause conflicts between everyday passengers. For example, if I was Muslim and looked like the stereotypical Muslim, I would not be thrilled to enter a bus or train with this ad running, simply because of the slight possibility a jerk might go into me about what I thought about blasphemy.
Free speech probably covers this ad, and certainly disallows my objective/cavalier judgments about its worth, but as someone who actually reads and speaks freely, this has nothing at all to do with my birthright. Whack-job authoritarians like Eugene Volokh who gets off on the possibility of offending a Muslim can have it.
The DC officials talked about safety concerns. Think maybe they’re also motivated by not wanting to offend some number of their customers for no good reason?
Pamela Gellar is a narcissist brat.
She can indulge her “in your face provocation” from the comfort of her star spangled tea-infused living room, while everyday folks ride the Metro hoping that some deranged religious fanatic doesn’t decide to wage Jihad in the Metro.
This is a fight between Geller and the people she is baiting. Both of them are very strategically making human shields out of the Metro employees and patrons. Although I support Geller’s speech right I am still offended that she wants to publish such an unnecessary provocation to make a point where she very likely will be out of harm’s way.
Why not just stop all of the ads? Who is going to decide if these ads are “political” ? That can cover a broad range of messages.
We are at a point when the media, politicians, and government are throwing up their hands and saying “that might just offend someone”: easy, but not courageous. And this has nothing to do with someone being anti islam. It is being anti-terrorism.
Nobody is blocking her free speech. They are just saying she can’t use a gov’t owned loudspeaker. She is perfectly free to go out and buy a bus of her own and plaster whatever messages she wants all over them, no matter how offensive they may be, and drive that bus on any public road she chooses to. She can even pick up all the RWNJ passengers she wants. Maybe they’ll get lucky and be the martyrs they wanted other people to be.
Oh, and by the way, that is a rather tame picture of some angry bearded guy in a turban swinging a sword. I don’t know why you think it is Mohammed, he doesn’t say he is.
@Tyrell: If the DC Metro officials are to be “courageous”, I would hope it would be in defense of the safety and dignity of their passengers. All their passengers.
What, and raise taxes to cover the revenue shortfall? Heaven forbid!
Oh and it is the height of irony to call someone trying to incite a terrorist attack, “anti-terror”.
I’m not sure political ads on busses qualify as nice things.
My thought as well. In fact, I think the final outcome (banning all political ads) is great. I wonder if the same tactic would work to get them banned on TV as well.
Interesting they only extended the ban on political ads to the end of the year. Must be expecting some cash flow from the election. Resubmitting the ad and others like it every 6 months should be the plan so they either lose out on the election year boon in ads or they accept freedom of speech. In any case, keeping the cowardly act alive in the public’s mind would be a good thing.
Note in the cartoon that the image is in no way identified as being of anyone named Muhammad or Muslim. The association is purely in the viewer’s mind. Which is informed, of course, by the much publicized threat by Muslim adherents against anyone depicting any image they consider of Muhammad (the prophet)
Geller is inciting terrorism. It’s the opposite of anti-terrorism.
This is why I have slowly gone from being a free speech absolutist to just not caring if smug, horrible people aren’t able to make their smug, horrible views heard. It turns out, I just don’t care. I can abide by most things, but not smugness.
She’s a bad person. Nazis are bad people. The KKK are bad people. We should round them up and stick them in a free speech zone far, far from the rest of us. And then put anti-muslim billboards all over the place and send the muslim fanatics there too.
Sorry to break this to you, but most libertarians are authoritarians who are too upmarket to hang out with the plebes.
Well, that’s rather ironic.
Probably because the plebes don’t know what an ecological fallacy is.
The overwhelming majority of them were some combination of 1) Extremely bigoted; 2) Terribly drawn; 3) Unable to make their point with anything more subtle than a sledgehammer; 4) Unable to make Mohammed look like anything other than a savage or an animal.
And frankly, there were several entries that were much better than the winner in all 4 of those departments. But hey, you gotta play to your audience.
There’s no “probably” about it
Is this one of the only instances where the government has preferred commercial speech to political speech?
Gellar won’t stop until she becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If she was such a free speech advocate, she would be advocating free speech, not trying to inspire a terror attack on the Metro.
@C. Clavin: Geller is no more “inciting terrorism” than the Westboro Baptist Church dingbats are inciting terrorism. They are both advancing a cause through in-your-face tactics that SCOTUS has said do not meet the requisite level of incitement or fighting words.
Hate speech is free speech. Popular speech does not need protection.
@James Pearce: So, what you are saying is there is such a thing as the terrorist veto.
Libertarians have been going on about what happens when we suppress forms of bigoted speech for as long as I’ve been on the internet. It’s like climate change. Everyday since 1998, you can find a libertarian explaining how political correctness and the urge not to offend are destroying free speech and you can find someone saying the climate change will be disproved. And yet neither of these has happened. There’s no campaign to destroy offensive speech. There’s a campaign to say offensive things towards the more marginal and occasionally it becomes too dumb or goes too far.
Basically, part of America is a highly intolerant and bigoted place that feels constantly under threat by outside forces. This part would die if it encountered the harassment other parts encountered on a daily basis. It likes to talk a ton and can’t stand when people talk back. This is why we don’t have ads on buses showing the bodies of children in Yemen killed by drone strikes but we have endless debates about how a woman or a Muslim has no right to protest being made uncomfortable.
And there’s also real unacceptable speech, the kind that is meaningful and suppressed because it is so. Volokh and other libertarians are strangely silent about that.
For example. Bill Kristol gets to be on television, but Noam Chomsky on Israel? Not a chance. Why this is the case (money, corporations fearing to offend the people who think that Muslims should always be offended) bothers Volokh not a whit, I’m guessing. It’s his favored environment. He likes people making decisions about what is unacceptable and acceptable. He just doesn’t want this choice to be made more democratic.
James P., he of phony academic credentials, is back.
@C. Clavin: And what are your credentials? Being inside more animals than Purina is not a credential.
They both are.
The verb, INCITE – to encourage or to stir up…is not limited to the SCOTUS definition.
They are advancing nothing but their own search for attention and the adulation of dupes like you.
You sir are nothing but a coward sitting behind your keyboard and making slanderous claims that you are safe from having to back up.
Revel in your cowardice little boy.
@James P: Then I assume you’re signing up to go fight against Isis. I mean, since you are the only one who sees this terrible threat, I’d think you’d feel obligated to do something about it.
To say Geller is inciting is your opinion. Nowhere has she said “Jihadis, I dare you to do something about this.” I dare you to blow up a bus, or if you fail to do something then you are a wuss.
Incitement must be directed at a person and calculated to get that specific person to react,
No, I’m saying in a world where you have to take you shoes off before you get on a plane, where your metadata is getting sniffed out by the NSA, that it would be foolish to put anti-Muslim ads sponsored by Pamela Gellar on the DC Metro.
Are you kidding me?
There’s a smart way and a dumb way to fight terrorism. This is the dumb way.
There’s a smart way and a dumb way to fight for free speech. This is the dumb way.
It’s not a terrorist’s veto. It’s a reasonable person’s veto. It’s the veto of a person who doesn’t want to bathe in self-righteousness and the blood of innocent people just to prove a point.
Bullshit. Doing a thing in the full knowledge that it will provoke a terroristic response is inciting terrorism. And doing it in such a way as to cause others to pay the price is cowardice.
@James P: As far as Islam being a threat, it is no more a threat than Christianity or Buddhism, or Judaism or …. But I ask you, how many Americans have been killed by Islamists this year? How many Americans have been killed by other Americans this year? Methinks you don’t understand the meaning of “threat”.
Unless and until you can show that I am knowingly spreading a false accusation and that you have been harmed (i.e. affect life, office, or trade, or which tend to loss of preferment in marriage or service, or in inheritance), you are simply bloviating.
The reasonable people are only objecting because the jihadis are threatening.
People make fun of the Catholic church all the time, some well deserved after the child molestation they covered up for many years. But if the Catholic Church objected in such a manner to threaten the New York Times for printing such a story, people would defend the NY Times and lambaste the Catholic Church…not the other way around.
Westboro knows full well they are trying to get a response, yet the police would lock up the people responding, not the Westboro kooks. Why? Because killing people is illegal! Calling someone out for their retarded beliefs is the American way.
@JKB: It looks to me like that Ayatollah Khomeini guy that took Iran over back in 1980. That was one mean dude. The US should have gone in and kicked that nut out.
That poster is too scary for small children.
Um….yeah. If jihadis could be trusted not to send suicide squads to blow up our stuff, there would be no reason to object.
But jihadis cannot be so trusted. Which makes Gellar’s move an unwise and unnecessary provocation.
I’m waiting for the first person to point out that all of the Lockheed-Martin and Raytheon and Boeing ads in the Pentagon metro station are actually political…
Of course. Which they do every day, resulting in a glaring absence of pornography and/or obscenity on the sides of DC buses. Are you similarly irate about that one, too?
An apt comparison
now you’re just phoning it in
@Stormy Dragon: Self-loathing is a common American pastime!
There was an episode of Roseanne where DJ kept sticking his fingers in Darlene’s face, until she finally hit him. DJ complains to his father “She hit me, I didn’t even touch her!” and he replies “Well, it hardly seems worth it then, does it?”
That summarizes how I feel about Pam Geller, Nazis and the KKK.
@Gustopher: FWIW I don’t think we deal with these people the right way. You may remember the “Illinois Nazis” in The Blues Brothers. That came from an actual march by the American Nazi Party or whatever they called themselves through Skokie, I think in the 70s. Skokie is a Chicago suburb with a large Jewish population and at that time many Holocaust survivors. The courts ruled the Nazis could march. Protesters, and police, showed up en masse. IIRC peace was barely maintained and the Nazis left feeling they’d accomplished whatever their stupid mission was.
I felt at the time the better response would have been to line the street and point and laugh at the fools. As we should do to Westboro Baptist, the KKK, and Pam Gellar.
@DrDaveT: As I have said, a lot of advertising includes political, social, educational, historical, and health subject material. Pornography, obscene language, lewd and suggestive photos, and sexual material should not be displayed in public on billboards, signs, or flyers. People can go on the internet and tv to see that stuff. There is no use in making everyone see it.
@James Pearce: Well said! And speaking strictly for myself, the fact that DC Metro’s action tweeks Gellar and her toadies like James P is simply the cherry on top.
Geller is running the ad for you, and for me, and for all of us to protect our right of free speech from the terrorist’s veto. You may not like that or agree with her, but that does not alter the fact that she is attempting to protect our rights. Most parents do things that make us mad and piss us off, but it is done in our, the children’s, best interest. Not that I am saying you, or anyone, is necessarily acting like an angry child.
I use the DC Metro every day to get to and from work, so I certainly don’t appreciate her generous offer to put a bull’s eye on my back. As far as I’m concerned, she can feck right off with her effort to protect my free speech rights by putting me and thousands of commuters at risk.
She should buy a bus, put any anti-Muslim stuff she wants on it, and drive it around every day if she wants. And if she gets blown up in it, good riddance.
Horseshit. You mean to tell me that unless we’re screaming the most offensive things we can at other people 24/7, we can’t call it free speech? Does free speech absolutism know of or understand the quality of tact? The beauty of free speech means it is my choice to say or not to say something.
The real BS of this is if, heaven forbid, there’s a suicide bomber on the DC Metro spurred by ads like this, everyone would blame the government for not keeping them safe. No, ignore the idiots who wanted to declare their ability to speak freely in the stupidest, most self-aggrandizing way possible.
Jesus Christ, that picture looks like a villain from the Conan the Barbarian comics. Obviously a fitting and proper tribute to the Prophet Muhammed, depict him as a dude with a sword yelling at you.
There are what, a billion Muslims in the world? 99 point whatever percent of them are not jihadis, including the random Muslims that ride the DC Metro. And we need their help to defeat th jihadis.
The jihadis are actively trying to radicalize Muslims and recruit from them. Can someone explain to me how offending Muslims generally helps us? If not, could someone explain to Pam Gellar that she’s a destructive, self absorbed a**? And to Another Mike?
And Doug, if asked, would have to admit that my stated desire for Pam Gellar to grow a brain and STFU in no way abridges the 1st Amendment.
There is no such thing as free speech absolutism. We have laws against slander and libel and inciting violence.
Geller’s point is that Muslims claim that we are not allowed to criticize Islam or draw images of Mohammad. Muslims claim that our free speech rights do not apply to Islam. Geller is saying that there is no free speech exemption for Islam, and she is making that point in a forceful way.
We all understand tact, courtesy, politeness and good manners. Geller is not being rude just to be rude. She is being rude to make the point to Muslims that they do not get to set limits on our rights.
All I hear you and others saying is that if Muslims feel so strongly about it that they are willing to use violence, then we will surrender our free speech right to criticize Islam. The price of free speech is just too high. The price of freedom is just too high. The price will always be too high.
Geller is an embarrassment because she reminds us of our cowardliness.
Right…however she is lying. What she is really doing is inciting a few radicals in order to condemn all of Islam. And clearly by your support of her you have been fooled. So it’s working…at least on xenophobes like you and the rest of the Republican party.
@OzarkHillbilly: ” Doing a thing in the full knowledge that it will provoke a terroristic response is inciting terrorism. And doing it in such a way as to cause others to pay the price is cowardice.”
Not the knowledge. The hope.
And that’s what makes her so loathsome.
@Another Mike: ” Geller is not being rude just to be rude.”
For once, I agree with you completely. She’s not being rude just to be rude.
She’s being rude to rake in cash from people stupid enough to think she’s a hero.
And yet, there was zero chance that she would do this by commissioning a beautiful and tasteful painting of a scene from the Koran, featuring the Prophet and some of his earliest followers. Such a painting would be every bit as much a rejection of the prohibition on making images of the Prophet — but it would not be rude enough to suit Geller’s purposes.
@James Pearce: Police avoid high-speed car chases through city streets and confronting dangerous criminals in crowds not because the people they would be chasing and confronting aren’t criminals. It’s because the police have the institutional presence of mind to know that causing collateral harm to the innocent is not a good way to advance the overall public good, even when there clearly are criminals among us. Police properly answer for their strategies through the political system. Geller answers to no one.
My problem with what Gellar wants to do is she is willing to put others at risk to do it, but keep herself safely back.
Those who have truly pushed and expanded the principles of free speech have put themselves at risk, not unwilling innocents.
Let me clarify.
The most important piece of information on this issue is Pamela Gellar. We know she is on the radar of Islamic extremists. She’s probably under armed guard right this very minute, not because of threats, not because of paranoia, but because an attack on her has already been thwarted.
In that context, it’s utterly irresponsible to allow Gellar’s “Draw Muhamed” posters on the DC Metro. Might as well paint a bullseye on the platform with a sign that says: “Hey, terrorists, attack here.”
If Gellar wants to make a target of herself for jihadis, and apparently she does, let her book the room, hire the extra security, and have a grand ole time. That’s free speech.
Not free speech: Endangering the lives of innocent commuters who didn’t sign up for her crusade.
It’s not “cowardice” or hypocrisy. It’s prudence. We should really disregard a known threat to make some minor point about free speech? That’s just irresponsible.
“Let her book a room” sounds like a perfect sting operation. The FBI, DOJ, HS, and NSA would have a field day arresting terrorists, radicals, and ISIS people.