Free-Speech Battle in Mosque War

It seems that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not a big fan of freedom of speech. He says that opponents of the Islamic supremacist mega-mosque that is set to be built at Ground Zero should be ashamed of themselves and should just shut up.

Then last week, his Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) made a serious effort to shut up my group Freedom Defense Initiative (FDI) when we tried to place ads on buses protesting the Ground Zero mosque. They backed down after we filed suit—but it was just one battle in the war on free speech.

It started last month when I signed a contract with CBS Outdoor to run a “Preservation of Ground Zero” bus ad campaign. We paid for the campaign in full.

Here is the original ad I submitted:

The ad was refused. When I asked why, CBS Outdoor told me that the city said that “images of 9/11 were not allowed.”

I was floored. I said, “It is American history. How can it be banned? What about Pearl Harbor? Is that censored too? On what grounds are 9/11 images banned? It is unconscionable.”

The CBS Outdoor representative told me: “You can’t run the plane.”

I asked CBS/MTA to provide me with the guidelines for these Seventh-Century censorship restrictions. They never did. And so I submitted a new ad with the following note: “Still waiting for the MTA guidelines. Please respond to my previous queries.… Please know that I strenuously object to you changing my artwork and my message in the process.”

CBS refused this ad as well. They said I had to remove the smoke.

CBS’s representative now told me that the MTA “doesn’t want to associate the new building”—the Ground Zero mega-mosque—“with Ground Zero. The people behind the new building say it has nothing to do with Ground Zero.”

I said, “But they are on record repeatedly as saying they want it there for Ground Zero ‘healing’ and ‘outreach.’” I asked if the Ground Zero mosque Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan could now dictate what ads the MTA could and could not run.

Finally, the CBS Outdoor representative told me to get him without smoke, without any flames—just the towers. So I submitted this ad:

But then CBS, on behalf of the MTA, said, “Remove the plane.”

And so I submitted another plane-less ad, protesting emphatically against this censorship.

About that ad I heard nothing. And so last Friday, we filed a lawsuit against New York City for refusing this bus campaign. The complaint alleged violation of our free speech rights as we refused to accept restrictions on the criticism of Islam, restrictions that come straight from Islamic sharia law.

The MTA was eagerly doing the bidding of the Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and the other leaders of the Ground Zero mosque initiative. One of my lawyers, David Yerushalmi, said that the MTA’s refusal of the ad was “dhimmi-like submission,” in which “the 1st Amendment to the Constitution gave way to sharia’s blasphemy laws.”

Commenting on Bloomberg’s unseemly haste to put down opponents of the mosque and his unwillingness to investigate the many questions that swirl around its organizers, Yerushalmi asked: “How long before the mayor’s office begins issuing fatwa’s against those who dare counter the ‘noble and peaceful outreach’ narrative?”

The MTA caved: They’re going to run our original bus ad. That’s good news, but it is certain that they’ll try something like this again.

So David Yerushalmi issued a warning: “Mr. Mayor and your colleagues at the MTA and the Landmark Commission: New Yorkers will not forget 9/11 and we will not be cowed into submission or silence. You might not want to hear our voices, but the federal courts will require you to listen. You claim the mantle of the Constitution as a basis for supporting a sharia-Islamist mosque at Ground Zero, yet the MTA—a government agency of the city—cavalierly denies ‘infidels’ freedom of speech. Enough is enough.”

Yes. Enough is enough.