A federal judge heard arguments Thursday on whether Metro should be allowed to delay a controversial anti-jihad ad, yet declined to make a decision immediately.
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Rosemary Collyer said she planned to issue an order soon in response to an injunction, then write her decision, due to the sensitive timing of the legal battle over the ads.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative signed a contract for $5,600 with Metro's advertising vendor, CBS Outdoor, on Sept. 6 to run 43-by-62-inch ads from Sept. 24 until Oct. 21 on the Metrorail system reading: "In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad." The ads are running in New York City's subways after a court found them to be protected political speech.
But Metro asked Thursday to delay the ads until at least Nov. 1, saying that three federal agencies had warned them of a verified domestic terrorism threat amid Mideast riots over an American anti-Islam video. Metro also received a separate email threatening to firebomb the system if it ran the ads.
Metro attorney Phillip Staub said the system's priority was to avoid becoming a terrorism target or incite riders to fight on platforms near deadly moving trains. Calling the ads a "gamble with public safety," Staub told the court, "We don't agree the First Amendment requires us to do that."
But Robert Muise, who is representing the advertiser, questioned the merit of Metro being targeted, noting the ads are already running in New York's subways without any attacks. "The only thing they have is one email from one lunatic," he said.
The legal arguments hinged on whether the ads constituted "fighting words" that would not be protected under the First Amendment, "hate speech" or the most protected form of "core political speech."
Collyer said she disagreed with the federal judge in New York that the language was core political speech. But she said she didn't buy Metro's argument that the language constituted fighting words. "It's really hate speech. Isn't it?" Collyer said.
Some 200 advocacy groups, including the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, have condemned the ads, but have not called for them to be delayed or banned. "They can run their ads, certainly, but Metro needs to take action to balance the ads to show we are not 'savages,' " said Abed Ayoub, legal director of the anti-discrimination committee.