Religion Ads on CTA buses enrage Jewish group, others

The controversial ads unveiled on the back of 10 CTA buses Wednesday read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.” They conclude with the words, “Support Copts. Defeat Jihad,” referring to friction between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Egypt.

Within hours of the buses’ first runs, messages appeared on Facebook and Twitter denouncing the campaign. Many said that degrading a spiritual tenet of Islam — one that refers to a Muslim’s personal quest to become a better person — amounts to hate speech.

“This whole campaign insinuates Muslims are violent,” said Asaf Bar-Tura, programs director for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, which protested the ads on social media Wednesday. “If it’s within their legal powers, (CTA) should either not put it up because they incite hate and stereotypical thinking or put a label next to each sign saying, ‘The CTA disagrees with this ad.'”

So far, federal judges have sided with the advertisement’s sponsor, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which sued transit authorities in New York City and Washington, D.C., when they initially rejected the ads. Those judges
ruled that public forums such as buses and trains cannot bar advertising entitled to First Amendment protection.

Pamela Geller, executive director of the initiative, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But on her blog Atlas Shrugs, she posted a letter from her lawyer threatening legal action against the CTA if the agency didn’t place the ads.

Brian Steele, a spokesman for the CTA, denied that the CTA was threatened with a lawsuit. But the precedents did deter the CTA from rejecting the ads, which are expected to run on different routes each day for four weeks.

“While those courts agreed that the AFDI ads violate anti-disparagement or anti-demeaning standards similar to CTA’s, that violation in and of itself did not remove AFDI’s First Amendment protection to place the ads,” Steele said in a

“CTA understands that this ad may be offensive to our customers,” he added. “While the courts have ruled this ad is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, we object to its divisive message.” The estimated ad revenue is about $4,500, a spokesman said

Meanwhile, Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, said the group plans to launch its own nationwide ad campaign next week. As part of the campaign called “My Jihad,” individual Muslims define what the spiritual concept means for them.

“I don’t feel the urge to fight. … I’d rather put out the alternative,” Rehab said. “People can decide what racism is.”