Freedom of Speech or Abuse of Speech? DC Buses Are No Place For Islamophobic Ads

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Credit: Creative Commons

This spring, an obscure, right-wing extremist, organization which oxymoronically characterizes itself as the “American Freedom Defense Initiative” (AFDI), has managed to force Washington DC’s transit authority to be misused for the purpose of the posting of their odious speech and imagery, not necessarily protected by the First Amendment according to the 1942 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire. It wasn’t the first time: this happened once before, in September of 2013, as well.
The ads currently being displayed on buses of our transit system, state “Islamic Jew-Hatred: It’s in The Quran” and next to an image of Hitler is the caption which states that a Palestinian he is talking to is “His Staunch Ally (and) The Leader of the Muslim World.”
The ads displayed in September of 2013 at the subway stations of the Washington Metropolitan Area transit system in essence suggested that Arabs are “savages” and stated that ” In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savages, Support the Civilized Man. Support Israel.”
The AFDI​ and the “Stop Islamization of America” organizations were founded by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. The Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as the United Kingdom, have labeled these organizations as hate groups and Pamela Geller was barred entry into the United Kingdom in 2013. It is noteworthy that Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer co-authored the book which is inflammatorily titled “The Post-American Presidency : The Obama Administration’s War on America
When the first set of ads​ was submitted to our transit system (referred to as the Metro System), its Managing Director to his credit refused to accept such dishonest and inflammatory languages ads. The AFDI then claimed that its so-called “freedom of speech”- which essentially really is an abuse of speech – was violated and incredibly a judge ruled in their favor so the Metro System was forced to accept these egregious ads.
The words used by the AFDI​ however constitute clearly incendiary “fighting words“​, and such “fighting words” have been ruled by a​ 1942​ Supreme Court decision ​as not protected by the First Amendment, so that now​ our Metro system has no pretext to accept these obscene ads, which disgrace our transportation system and by extension our city.​
Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, U.S. 568​ ​(1942), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court articulated the fighting words doctrine​, a limitation of the First Amendment’s ​guarantee of the freedom of speech.​
Writing the decision for the Court, Justice Frank Murphy​ advanced a “two-tier theory” of the First Amendment. Certain “well-defined and narrowly limited” categories of speech fall outside the bounds of constitutional protection. Thus, “the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous,” and (in this case) insulting or “fighting” words neither contributed to the expression of ideas nor possessed any “social value” in the search for truth.
Murphy wrote:

There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the ​insulting​ or”fighting” words those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.

​​Our nation’s capital must not tolerate this kind of hate and fear mongering nonsense to be displayed publicly which, to boot, is dishonestly dis-informative, in its flagrant way of de-contextualizing and thereby distorting, factual history.
Violence generates violence. Our buses and trains must not be vehicles to promote destructive and odious speech, and particularly not in the capital of the United States where to visitors come to be inspired and not shocked and intimidated by hate mongering on nonsensical grounds as they walk and are motorized through our beautiful city.
Decent conservatives and liberals and progressives can and must ​come together on this issue. Let us therefore come together to have this shameful message and image removed immediately.