By Victoria Neely Columnist
Recently New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority amended the guidelines of what type of advertisements will be allowed after an ad comparing Muslim radicals to “savages” sparked a large amount of controversy. A woman was arrested after she spray painted over one of the ads in a New York City subway station and had an altercation with another subway rider who tried to defend the poster with her body. As one of the many consequences faced by the controversial ads, the MTA tried to refuse to run them only to be successfully sued by the sponsor of the ad for violating their First Amendment Rights.
The MTA claims that its new guidelines adhere to the First Amendment’s right to free speech and that it only prohibits ads that the MTA “reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace”. In light of the violent protests occurring in the Middle East, should our basic civil rights be infringed?
The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech,” and the use of guidelines to restrict any sort of ad being placed in MTA public transportation systems that are used by millions of people every day is inherently unconstitutional. There are probably a thousand essays online talking about how there may be circumstances when censorship is justified, but the pure fact of the matter is this: once the American people start to slowly let go of their basic rights that are granted to them by the Constitution, other rights will begin to chip away until there are none left.
One of our country’s most basic principles is the beauty of being able to think, speak, feel, and express whatever you want to without having to fear persecution from others. After the Anti-Islam ads ran Jewish and Christian groups took out ads that state “Love Your Muslim Neighbors,” as well as others defending Muslims. They wanted to make it clear that exercising the right to free speech can be very effective and that dehumanizing Muslims is unjust.
In light of the recent violence in the Middle East, and initial observations stating it to be a result of an American-made video mocking the prophet Muhammad, I can sympathize with the MTA’s desire to regulate what goes up on their walls. Their ads can reach up to millions of people on a normal day. However, that is exactly what makes America different from the rest of the world: the fact that you can challenge things such as ad regulations put into place by the MTA. As long as an ad states that it does not represent the views of MTA, there should be no reason for any ad to be prohibited from being run on public transit.