Thursday, October 08, 2015

New York Subways Must Run Satiric Ads For Film Portraying Muslim Comedians

In Vaguely Qualified Productions LLC v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority, (SD NY, Oct. 7, 2015), a New York federal district court issued a preliminary injunction requiring the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to display plaintiff's advertising campaign for its film The Muslims Are Coming! in the New York City subway system. The film is the story of a group of American Muslim comedians who travel across the country performing stand-up comedy.  The advertising posters use comedic satire to attract the reader's attention and refer the reader to the film's website.  For example, one ad reads: "The Ugly Truth About Muslims: Muslims have great frittata recipes."

After initially accepting the ads, the MTA later refused them under a revised policy that barred ads which are political in nature.  The policy change came in response to a court order requiring the MTA to accept an anti-Muslim ad from the American Freedom Defense Initiative. (See prior posting.) In yesterday's decision, the district court held that VQP's proposed ads are commercial, and not political in nature:
...[T]o "prominently or predominately" advocate or express a political viewpoint, an advertisement must do far more than refer to a subject about which there is a lack of national consensus.
The court went on to hold that the MTA's determination that VQP's ads were political is not a viewpoint neutral decision:
To suggest, as the MTA's actions do, that an advertisement for the Republican presidential debate with photographs and quotes from candidates is somehow less "political" than humorous statements about the Muslim population's dislike of both terrorism and insufficient bagel schmear is, quite clearly, not viewpoint neutral.
Wall Street Journal reports on the decision. Muslim Advocates' press release on the decision also includes a link to the original complaint in the case.