October 7, 2015 / 7:30 PM / in 4 years

New York's MTA must run 'Muslim' movie posters in subways: judge

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday ordered New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to let filmmakers run a series of lighthearted advertisements promoting their film “The Muslims Are Coming!” in the subway.

Commuters arrive at Grand Central Station on a Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Metro North Railroad from Chappaqua, New York February 5, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The decision by U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in Manhattan is a defeat for the MTA, which in April banned political ads from buses and subways after another judge ordered it to display a controversial ad from an anti-Muslim group.

McMahon granted a preliminary injunction requiring the MTA to display Vaguely Qualified Productions LLC’s ads for its film for 28 days, and said the studio had “established a clear or substantial likelihood of success on the merits” of its lawsuit.

Ads for “The Muslims Are Coming!” contained what filmmakers Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah considered tongue-in-cheek statements such as “The Ugly Truth About Muslims: Muslims have great frittata recipes” and “Those Terrorists Are All Nutjobs,” with “nutjobs” replacing the crossed off “Muslim” to be “more accurate.”

The film also features commentary from people like Lewis Black, Rachel Maddow, Russell Simmons and Jon Stewart.

McMahon said the MTA did not show that the ads were political, or exercise “viewpoint neutrality” in excluding them.

She noted that the agency recently ran ads for CNN coverage of a Republican presidential debate, including quotations from candidates like Ohio Governor John Kasich.

“An arbitrary conclusion by some official at the MTA, untethered to any articulated or articulable standard, that an advertisement including the word ‘Muslims’ is ‘political,’ is utterly unreasonable,” McMahon wrote.

“Indeed,” she added, “the evidence before the court plainly indicates that VQP’s silly advertisements were subject to greater scrutiny than other potentially controversial ads.”

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said the agency is reviewing the decision.

“We’re very pleased,” said Glenn Katon, a lawyer for Vaguely Qualified, in an interview. “Just because you have something comedic that refers to ‘Muslims’ or ‘Islam’ doesn’t make the subject matter controversial or political. The judge got that.”

Vaguely Qualified sued on June 25, six days after U.S. District Judge John Koeltl let the MTA under its new policy reject an ad from the American Freedom Defense Initiative that criticized Hamas and referred to Muslims killing Jews.

Koeltl had previously ordered the MTA to accept the ad from the anti-Muslim group, prompting the policy change. The American Freedom Defense Initiative is appealing Koeltl’s latest ruling.

The case is Vaguely Qualified Productions LLC v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-04952.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang

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