Two Muslim filmmakers have filed a lawsuit against the MTA claiming the agency rejected their advertisements under a rule that prohibits disputed political views. They argue the ads have nothing to do with politics and should not be banned.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Manhattan federal court, the filmmakers, Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah, claim the nation's largest mass transit system is violating their First Amendment right to free speech.
The two created the advertisements to help promote their film, "The Muslims Are Coming." They say the overall message of both the ads and the film is "that American Muslims are ordinary people."
Farsad and Obeidallah said they paid the MTA nearly $15,000 to run the ads, which they were told would be put up in 140 subway stations in April. When the ads didn't go up on the scheduled date, they called the MTA but didn't hear back for several days — until they were told the ads would violate a policy that went into effect in the interim, which bans ads that are "political in nature."
Glenn Katon, their attorney with the civil rights group Muslim Advocates, said the two "had a constitutional right to post the ads under the old policy." He claims the MTA "reneged on the deal" and now wants a federal judge to order the agency to put up the advertisements. The two are not challenging the MTA's ability to enact policies, but instead are arguing that their advertisements are not political and do not violate the policy.
MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said the agency had not yet been served with the lawsuit but that it was pleased that a judge upheld its new policy last week. In a recent court filing, the MTA's director of real estate said he had determined the ads violated the policy because they "prominently or predominantly advocate or express a political message."
The ads include, among others, the phrases: "The Ugly Truth About Muslims: Muslims have great frittata recipes" and "Muslims! They invented coffee, the toothbrush and algebra ... Oh wait, sorry about the algebra. That's a year of class you'll never get back."
"It's comedic," Obeidallah said of the MTA's determination. "What's political about saying 'Muslims like frittatas' or have great frittata recipes?"