Dozens of faith groups Monday called on Metro to donate to charity proceeds from a controversial subway advertisement that the groups say is anti-Muslim.
“We live in a globalized world and some here in the United States refuse to accept this reality,” said Rev. J. Herbert Nelson of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), one of the progressive faith leaders involved in a broader campaign to fight what they say is escalating anti-Muslim sentiment in America. “Metro may be called to profit, but we are called to prophesize.”
But a Metro spokeswoman said subway platforms have been ruled public space and speech there can’t be preferenced.
“We’ll deal with the proceeds from this ad the same as we deal with any other,” Caroline Lukas said.
The ads have involved lawyers and controversy not only in Washington but also in San Francisco and New York City, where they also appeared earlier this year. Debate has centered on what constitutes free speech and hate speech.
In Washington, Metro had tried to delay running the ads, which say, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel, defeat jihad.” But a judge Oct. 5 rejected Metro’s argument that the ads could provoke violence.
At the press conference Monday, a group of progressive faith leaders said that even if the month-long ads, running in four busy stations, are legal, they offend hundreds of thousands of commuters from diverse backgrounds who have to see them every day and they exacerbate already existing political tensions.
Organized by a new interfaith umbrella organization called Shoulder to Shoulder, which is working to combat anti-Muslim sentiment, the groups urged Metro to donate to charity the $5,600 it cost to run the ads alongside the track at the Glenmont, Takoma Park, U Street and Georgia-Petworth subway stations. They asked the same for the cost of counter-ads the group purchased that began running Monday at Woodley Park, Takoma Park and Glenmont stations.
CBS Outdoor, Metro’s advertiser, had sought to delay running the ads in September, saying the ads could be dangerous because of the exploding international dispute over an anti-Muslim film and deadly protests in the Middle East.
The ads ran amid controversy earlier this year in San Francisco and New York City. They were purchased by a group called American Freedom Defense Initiative, led by several provocative bloggers who say core aspects of the Islamic faith are responsible for violence and terrorism in the Muslim world. A previous ad the group ran says terrorist attacks prove “not Islamophobia . . . [but] Islamorealism.”
In San Francisco, the Municipal Transportation Agency ran a disclaimer next to the bus ads and donated proceeds to the city’s Human Rights Commission. In New York City, the Metropolitan Transit Authority decided to start running disclaimers next to some ads.
The disputes have added fuel to an already simmering debate about whether there can be limits on speech about religion.
Muslim leaders and their supporters say anti-Muslim rhetoric is escalating in the United States and efforts are increasing to find more ways to combat it.
The counter ads, signed by groups including the United Methodist Church and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, says: “Hate speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed.”
Speaking at the Monday news conference, Sabrina White with the regional office of United Methodist Women said the initial ad cuts deeply with its language.
“The word ‘savage’ has a painful history in our great nation,’’ she said. “It has been used against Native Americans, African Americans, to justify massacres and slavery. It is used to distance people from the human race.”
We call upon our fellow citizens to treat each other with compassion and honesty, and to foster an ethical commitment to bedrock American values such as pluralism and religious freedom, mutuality and respect—values also at the core of our religious traditions.