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Judge Paul Engelmayer believes this ad from the AFDI represents "core political speech" that must be "afforded the highest
level of protection under the First Amendment."

Another Federal Judge—Another Billboard Lawsuit











This time the location is Ann Arbor, Michigan.

And this time the billboard opposes Israel.

I have been reporting regularly about the ongoing “billboard wars” in America over the Palestine-Israeli conflict, and the right to promote one’s position on the matter by taking out billboard advertisements. (see here, here, here, and here ). The latest episode in the saga seems to be playing out in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where a lawsuit has been filed challenging the local transit agency’s refusal to accept ads containing skull and bones imagery and calling for a boycott of Israel. This AP report was posted today at Dearborn Boycotts Israel:

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) – An Ann Arbor bus agency is vigorously defending itself in a lawsuit related to the rejection of a provocative ad on its vehicles.

Blaine Coleman’s ad would have skulls and bones and say, ‘Boycott Israel. Boycott Apartheid.’ He believes the Israeli government treats Palestinians unfairly.

Coleman wants the ad on buses that travel near the University of Michigan, but the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority rejected it. In a court filing this week, the agency says it turns down ads that ridicule a group of people. Bus officials say Coleman’s ad would make people uncomfortable and have a ‘negative impact’ on ridership.

Federal Judge Mark Goldsmith appears close to making a decision on an injunction sought by Coleman’s lawyers. They say his free-speech rights are being violated.

The same story has also been carried by an ABC affiliate in Toledo, Ohio.

The really fascinating question that a lot of people are now going to be watching is: will the ruling by this judge, in this court, be consistent with the July 20 ruling by another federal judge in an almost identical case brought in New York?

Judge Paul Engelmayer believes this ad from the AFDI represents “core political speech” that must be “afforded the highest
level of protection under the First Amendment.”

In a post just over a week ago I discussed a lawsuit filed by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which in September of last year attempted to place ads on the sides of New York City busses, only to have them turned down by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The MTA has a policy prohibiting “images or information that demean an individual or group of individuals on account of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation.” The ad would have read: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

As I say, the New York case and the Ann Arbor case are practically identical, both involving billboards, with both billboards featuring messages addressing the Palestine-Israel conflict. In fact, the only significant difference in the two cases would seem to be that in the New York case the billboard is pro-Israel, while in Ann Arbor the sentiment expressed is against Israel.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative, or AFDI, is headed by Pamela Geller, of the Atlas Shrugged blog, a Jewish writer who has been outspoken in her opposition to the “Islamization of America.” Geller has called Islam a “genocidal ideology,” and has warned of the dangers of Sharia law coming to America—however, significantly, it was not a Muslim judge who presided over her case. In deciding the lawsuit in her favor, U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer ruled that the side of a public transportation vehicle is a “public forum” where free speech must be allowed to take place:

As a threshold matter, the Court notes that the AFDI Ad is not only protected speech—it is core political speech. The Ad expresses AFDI’s pro-Israel perspective on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in the Middle East, and implicitly calls for a pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy with regard to that conflict. The AFDI Ad is, further, a form of response to political ads on the same subject that have appeared in the same space. As such, the AFDI Ad is afforded the highest level of protection under the First Amendment.

The decision means the MTA will be forced to accept the AFDI’s ad, which begs the question: Would Engelmayer, or any other judge in America for that matter, have issued a ruling requiring a transit authority to accept ads depicting Jews as “savages”? And will Goldsmith now take a position similar to Engelmayer’s with regard to the anti-Israel “skull and bones” ads in Ann Arbor? Inquiring minds want to know. As the AP story notes, a ruling in the matter “appears close.”

8 Responses to Another Federal Judge—Another Billboard Lawsuit

  1. who_me August 5, 2012 at 2:20 am #

    jewish judges deciding on issues pertaining to palestine and israel….

    • Blake August 5, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

      Aye we hardly have a Muslim problem we have a talmudic one

    • happeh August 5, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

      Israeli judges rule on issues pertaining on everything in Israeli occupied America.

      Do a survey of judges in America. The majority are Israelis.

      It is so weird to walk up to the courthouse in America and see the names of three Israelis listed as the sitting judges.

      I got a camera ticket in one of our local municipalities that is running an extortion racket. They set up traffic cameras with no warning signs on the freeway offramps. They waylay passersby coming off the freeway for $500 tickets.

      I went to the judge who was an Israeli and said “judge. I looked both ways and rolled through the stop sign at 3 or 5 miles an hour like every other Californian does. If the policeman sitting right there next to you saw what I did in person, he would not write me a ticket because he knows all Californians do exactly what I did”.

      The Israeli judge looked down at her desk for a second, then looked up and said “Guilty. That will be $500.”

      That Israeli judge doesn’t care what is morally right or wrong for Americans. Her job is to milk them for every dime she can get out of them so she can send it back to Israel.

  2. etominusipi August 5, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.

    Habakkuk 1:4

  3. pgg804 August 5, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    At first glance I didn’t realize the man pictured there was Judge Engelmayer. I associated him with the group posting the ad. Now that I know he is the judge, that helps explain the decision.

  4. Laura Stuart August 6, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    I picked this up on a zionist blog not the one the link is to

    poster campaigns are coming under attack everywhere.

  5. Barb Weir August 7, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    I gotta tell ya that this analysis totally ignores the creepiness factor of the Ann Arbor ad. If it were promoting chewing gum it might easily get rejected. Who wants to look at that the whole time they’re on the bus?

    Someone is overlooking some strategic options.

    • etominusipi August 7, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

      Barb, you have a point, but i would respectfully present three poached red herrings from the Pool of Fallacious Mentation to place in the opposite balance pan of the Libran scales of Justice, together with a final consideration in favour of your reaction.

      (1) the law is, after all, not about aesthetics judgements, though a transportation company may have its own guidelines. the question of the nature of such guidelines and/or the manner in which they are imposed might in some cases be the legitimate subject for legal enquiry.

      there are limits imposed via a concept of public decency, any such limits are liable to become – and in a healthy ‘democracy’ should become – the subjects of lively debate, even controversy. for the best balance between opposing demands any such limits need flexibility, require sagacity in application, and should not be used either to control or shut down public discussions, or to operate in favour of or against the special interests of any social sub-group. of course, it has been quite reasonably claimed that the very institutions of law operate against the special and very particular interests of the criminal fraternity, but that somewhat complex matter requires separate discussion.

      (2) some might find it creepy to refer to people as ‘savages’. one (wo)man’s jeepers! is another (wo)man’s creepers!

      (3) in a crazy world where our taxes fund hi-tech megadeath, an occasional memento mori may not be entirely out of place. i think the ad should just have been run for Hallow’een (if they have that in Ann Arbor).

      (4) on the other hand, and perhaps this is one of the points you are making, if the effect of the ad were to associate the idea of justice in Palestine with unpalatable images, then the campaign itself would backfire.

      in such a case, curiously, might it not have been more ‘judicious’ for those who oppose justice in Palestine to have allowed the ad to run?