Anti-Islamic Subway Ad Scuffle: Time To Pick Sides
Freedom of expression(s)?
It took just over 24 hours for several subway ads featuring an offensive, anti-Islamic message were vandalized, which, somehow, has led to a debate about the First Amendment, as apparent in the comment section of our story abut the vandals posted yesterday.
The entire debate is a bit of an enigma/completely contradictory -- it seems many of the people who detest the ads and want them taken down are the same people advocating for the free speech rights of those vandalizing the ads.
In one case of vandalism (that just happened to be caught on tape by a New York Post film crew), Mona Elthaway spray paints not only one of the ads but also a woman who was trying to protect it. She was not-so-promptly arrested.
The debate is this: Initially, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority declined to approve the ads due to the "demeaning" message they convey. However, a federal judge ruled in July that not allowing the ads violated the First Amendment rights of the American Freedom Defense, the pro-Israel group that paid for the ad. Some say that if the AFD has the Constitutional right to express itself with the ad, then people like Elthaway have the right to express themselves over the ad -- with spray paint.
That's the debate, anyway. The reality is this: vandalism is against the law, as we also pointed out yesterday (while not-so-subtly encouraging vandalism). The ads are the property of the MTA and the ADF, which paid money to put them up. And while we are firm advocates of the First Amendment, there are certain ways to go about practicing it if your goal is not to get arrested. Vandalizing property is not protected by the First Amendment, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily wrong -- you just have to be willing to get arrested for it.
Below are some of the comments about the spraying from our post yesterday:
-"Mona has a right to express herself and she did, period." - rainbowthinks.
-"How is standing in the way of freedom of speech "courageous"? I agree that when it comes to mistreatment of Muslims, Islam is by all means to be considered a race and prejudice as racism. But ultimately, Islam is a philosophy and it's fair game to make judgements and criticisms on that, and to promote the viewpoint you're on the side of. Instead of graffiting over these, she should be organising counterpoints, if there are any to be made." - andrew.moncrieff.
-"My, my, people really do not seem to understand what free speech ic. Sorry, but covering up someone else's speech is neither 1) a conversation now 2) an exercise in free speech. It is simply attempting to deny others their right to free speech. You might not like the speech, but your rights do not entitle you to trample the rights of others. You have the right to take out your own billboard. You have the right to protest. You have the right to write articles. But tearing up the speech of others, and then calling *that* free speech... is nonsensical." -eddiewilson.
If you ask us, we 100-percent approve of what Elthaway did. But it's not protected -- nor should it be protected -- by the First Amendment. It was an act of civil disobedience intended to let people know that not everyone thinks the same way as the ADF. And with civil disobedience comes consequences. At the same time, we don't like what the ADF has to say, but we respect its right to say it -- as we respect the rights of people to go fuck up their ads so long as they're willing to accept the consequences.
We want to know what you think though: should Elthaway's "expression" protected by the First Amendment?
Cast your vote below.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.