Many visitors to New York City have used the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The MTA is New York’s public transportation system and one of the largest in the world.
Two young Muslim comedians have brought a case against the transit system to federal court. The comedians want to advertise their new film on subway trains.
The MTA had accepted anti-Muslim advertising up until last year. Now, it is blocking pro-Muslim advertising. The comedians say that a ban of their ads violates their rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The first amendment protects many rights, including freedom of speech.
At issue in the court case is the latest advertising for a movie called Beware: The Muslims Are Coming. The film is the work of a production company called Vaguely Qualified Productions. The company is taking legal action against the Metropolitan Transit Authority for failing to honor a signed contract. Under the agreement, the MTA promised to accept advertising for the film on its subway system. The two comedians, Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah, have already spent almost 20-thousand dollars on advertising.
The MTA is now refusing the ads because it says they contain disputed political content.
Glenn Katon is the legal director for Muslim Advocates, a legal rights and educational organization. He says the MTA's decision is wrong.
"You can't dispute comedy. You can't dispute the underlying message, which is Muslims are human beings, some of whom have a sense of humor. Like these are things that I don't think anyone can reasonably dispute. And, that's why we think the MTA got the decision so wrong."
The MTA was involved in a similar lawsuit earlier. A group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative provides support to anti-Islamic activists and their ideas. In April, a federal court ruled in a case involving the AFDI and the MTA. The AFDI wanted the transit system to accept ads critical of Islam. The court ordered the MTA to accept the advertising. After the court's decision, the MTA decided to stop accepting ads that have sometimes been called "political messaging."
Gene Russianoff is an attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, a group that works in support of public transit riders. He says the MTA's decision to stop accepting "political messaging" is strange and pointless. He says that free speech is important in New York's subway system. The subways are where people go to communicate, he adds.
Beware: The Muslims are Coming is now playing on video streaming websites, such as Amazon and iTunes. But Ms. Negin and Mr. Obeidallah say the advertising campaign was important to them. They feel that the MTA betrayed them with its decision.
"What's political about saying Muslims love frittatas or have great frittata recipes. Or other posters like Muslims hate a bunch of things like hipsters who wear winter hats in the summertime? There's nothing political about us just expressing who we are and telling our story. That's really the point about this."
"The First Amendment is totally awesome. It protects speech, all kinds of speech, even that speech we don't like, and that's what makes it great."
The efforts of the two film makers could open the way for their comedic opinions. But they could open the way for people with very different opinions, too.
I'm Pete Musto.
VOA's Bernard Shusman reported this story from New York City. Pete Musto adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
transit – adj. related to transportation; n. - the act of moving people or things from one place to another
comedian – n. a person who performs in front of others and makes people laugh by telling jokes or funny stories
lawsuit – n. a case or legal action; process by which a court of law makes a decision to end a dispute
attorney – n. a lawyer; a person whose job is to guide and assist people on issues relating to the law
streaming – adj. playing continuously as data is sent to a computer over the Internet
hipster – n. a person who follows the latest styles, methods or looks
Now it’s your turn. Does your country have laws that protect free speech? Is it acceptable to advertise anything in public? Let us know in the comments section.