We Like Quiet

Photo: Lindsay Niegelberg / Stamford Advocate


As a frequent rider of Metro-North and (I’d like to think) a scholar of international law, I feel as if it is my duty to comment on the competing, politically motivated advertising campaigns lining the New Haven and Harlem lines. The current crop of ads, as reported by the Connecticut Post, “include the slogan ‘It’s not Islamophobia, It’s Islamorealism,’ in red lettering on a black background. . . . Above the slogan, the poster lists the number 19,250, the purported number of terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic extremists since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.” These ads were purchased by the group American Freedom Defense Initiative (or AFDI), “. . . a human rights organization dedicated to human rights, the rule of law, the dignity of the human person, free speech, the free conscience, and equality of rights for all.” According to the Connecticut Post article, the ads were “. . . bought to counter a round of platform advertisements critical of Israel that were financed by retired Wall Street broker Henry Clifford of the Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine.”

Now, I do not wish to comment on the substance of the advertisements in this post. I think the advertisements speak for themselves. Rather, I wish to discuss the free-speech implications of the campaigns.  Currently, a case is pending in the Southern District of New York that addresses the free-speech issue. Last month or so, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Engelmayer issued a preliminary injunction finding the MTA violated the AFDI’s free speech rights by refusing to allow an advertisement to be placed on the side of MTA buses it considered discriminatory against Muslims. In his opinion, Judge Engelmayer held in part that, “the Court agrees with AFDI that [advertising space on the exterior of MTA buses] is a designated public forum, in which content-based restrictions on expressive activity are subject to strict scrutiny.” Anyone who paid the least bit of attention in Con Law can tell you that if the court decides to impose a strict scrutiny standard to content-based restrictions on expressive activity, the restrictions are very likely going to be found violative of the 1st amendment, as was the case in Judge Engelmayer’s opinion.

What I think about all of this:

First of all, despite my interest and views on the Middle East conflict, I am personally offended by both of these campaigns. They are both extremely, and in my view unnecessarily, incendiary. I am confident I speak on behalf of the majority Metro-North riders when I say that we very much value quiet and being left to our own devices during our commutes. Many of us take the train on a regular basis to spend long, arduous hours at our jobs and/or schools, and the last thing we want at the end, or beginning, of our days is to have someone get up on their soapbox and proselytize. We just want to be left to ourselves. All we really ask for is quiet.

Nevertheless, I believe Judge Engelmayer got the law right. It seems clear to me that the side of an MTA bus is a public forum, meaning a strict scrutiny test is warranted. So, bottom line, even though I would much rather see ads for accountants or vacations in New Hampshire during my commute, I believe the AFDI and the Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine should be able to put up their posters if they feel so inclined.

But what do others think? Specifically, if you are a regular commuter like myself, I’d like to hear your take on these campaigns.




One comment

  1. Following up from Adam’s post, I came across a N.Y. Times article from the same organization, concerning advertisements on the NYC subway system. This time around, the advertisements call jihad “savage”, and will appear next week in 10 subway stations. As a commuter on the LIRR and NYC subway system all summer, I am completely against not only the message of the NYC and Metro-North ads, but their placement as well. Although the executive director claims that not telling the truth is “dangerous”, I cannot see these advertisements as anything but dangerous. Aside from the fact that morning commuters don’t want to be bothered by these messages on their commute to work, these advertisements are not only insensitive, but severely misplaced. I additionally find it disturbing that the director is not concerned about posting these ads given the already tense situation in the Middle East right now. It is very likely that these ads will offend people, and it is unnecessary to place these ads with a sensitive issue, especially to NYC citizens, at subway stations. Regardless of your political views, the language and way these advertisements are displayed are worrisome, and I fear they’re going to do more harm than good. I do agree with Adam that while these ads may be permissible by law, it is frustrating that they are able to be displayed with no courtesy given to the commuters on the NYC subway system or the surrounding areas.

    See: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/nyregion/ad-demeaning-muslims-to-appear-in-new-york-subway.html?smid=tw-nytmetro&seid=auto&_r=2

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