The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

MTA Board Votes to Ban Political Ads

By Jeff Mays | April 30, 2015 8:52am
 Pamela Geller, executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, holds the advertisement that prompted the MTA to ban all political ads.
Pamela Geller, executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, holds the advertisement that prompted the MTA to ban all political ads.
View Full Caption
American Freedom Defense Initiative

NEW YORK CITY — Political ads have been banned from the city's buses and trains.

The move comes after a federal court ruled earlier this month that the MTA must run an ad from the pro-Israel group American Freedom Defense Initiative that reads: "Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah."

The advertisement had already run in San Francisco and Chicago and is protected free speech under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, U.S. District Judge John Koeltl ruled.

The MTA argued that the advertisement would incite violence against Jews.

The board of the MTA voted 9-2 Wednesday morning to ban all political advertisements.

Under the new rules, the agency will no longer accept advertisements that "prominently or predominately advocate or express a political message" about "disputed economic, political, moral, religious or social issues."

Also prohibited is an ad that "promotes or opposes" a political party, ballot referendum and "the election of any candidate."

The MTA will still accept commercial advertising, governmental advertisements and public service announcements.

The MTA collected $138 million from advertising on its trains and buses last year.

The board estimated that the financial loss to the cash-strapped agency from not accepting political ads would amount to less than $1 million or under 1 percent of annual ad revenue.

MTA board member Charles Moerdler called the AFDI advertisement "garbage" and "loathsome vitriol" at the start of a debate on free speech before the vote.

"Free speech is a cornerstone of free and democratic Institutions," Moerdler said.

"Hateful speech, with its odious appeal to intolerance, is the incendiary that invites violence and ultimately undermines, if not destroys, those very institutions."

Fellow board member John Molloy took the opposite approach, calling the measure "well-intentioned" but "paternalistic" towards its riders and unlawful.

"We're stopping free expression of ideas to save the public from perhaps reading something that offends them. This contravenes good public policy, probably is unconstitutional and makes no sense," Molloy said.

"Whenever we vary from pure transportation policy, we as a board do not have the expertise and we make errors."

Pamela Geller, executive director of AFDI, criticized the decision as a "naked attempt to make an end-run around the First Amendment and restrict speech that is out of favor."

AFDI — considered an anti-Muslim group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — said the ad was a parody of one by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which sought to recast the term "jihad" in a more positive light than its normal connotation.

"This is far from over," Geller said.

The New York Civil Liberties Union also opposes the MTA's policy change.

After a lengthy debate on the issue, MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast pressed for a vote, saying the agency had more important issues to deal with such as the $14 billion gap in its $32 billion capital plan.

"This is not a new issue. This is an issue that has been brought up a number of times in the past five, if not 10 years , in the MTA," said Prendergast, who voted for the ban.