Anti-Islamic Ad on SEPTA Buses Does Not Commute

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There's about a 50-50 split in opinion on the legal right to post the ads — but nobody seems to like them.

George, a SEPTA bus driver, has heard a 50-50 split as to where people stand on the anti-Islamic advertisements posted on the sides of buses in Phila­delphia.
 
Some say the ad’s sponsor,  Pam Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative, should be allowed to run its advertisements, which state, “Islamic Jew Hatred: It’s in the Quran,” and show a picture of Hitler meeting with an Islamic leader in the 1940s.
 
Others say the advertisements — which were placed on the driver’s side of 84 buses on April 1 for one month — contain hate speech and should not be covered by the First Amendment.
 
“Some say, ‘Why are they allowed to run on the bus?’ and then the other half says, ‘Freedom of speech,’ ” said George, who did not want to give his last name.
 
SEPTA had tried to block the advertisements, which have also run in other cities, but a federal judge ruled that its efforts violated the First Amendment.
 
But no one has said they support the message, according to George, who has driven for SEPTA for eight years and spoke while  driving on the 48 route. 
 
This was borne out by an informal survey conducted by the Jewish Exponent. Speaking to pedestrians and bus passengers, the Exponent found that most people believe that groups have a constitutional right to post such advertisements even if the ads are seen as  odious.
 
“This is what happens, unfortunately, when you have a free society,” said Barbara Blumfield, a registered nurse who described herself as a conservative Republican and is Jewish.
 
She was among the throngs of people filling the sidewalks of Market Street on Monday afternoon. 
 
“People have a right to say what they want and picket but, unfortunately, this is what comes of it,” she said, adding that she thinks the ads promote anti-Semitism. 
 
After the judge ruled against SEPTA in early March, a coalition of civic and religious organizations launched a campaign called Dare to Understand on social media and with a billboard, and city officials, including Mayor Michael Nutter, joined with Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders in Love Park to counter the advertisements.
 
Launching such a public campaign or simply ignoring the advertisements is preferable to trying litigation against the advertisements, said attorney Jonathan Krause, a member of the Anti-Defamation League’s regional board.
 
“I think the best way of addressing the advertisements is either to ignore them — not giving them the oxygen they need to get attention — or to respond with corrective statements,” said Krause, 35, who practices employment law and was walking on Market Street.
 
One thing is for sure: There will be no oxygen available on public transit in the future, now that SEPTA has changed its policy to prohibit future political, public-issue, and noncommercial ads.
 
Jennifer, a Christian woman who lives in West Philadelphia and is looking for work, described the ads as “irresponsible.”
 
“You can’t generalize all of Islam by Hitler meeting with one leader,” she said. 
 
Mike Toklish, an accountant who is not Jewish, said he hopes “the advertisements are pulled.”
 
“I think they are completely inappropriate; they only increase hatred,” said Toklish. He said he has seen one of the ads, “and there were people just staring at it.” 
 

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