In Washington, D.C., commuters see ads on issues of public concern all the time as they ride subways and buses. But one ad has created such controversy that it has disrupted that pattern.
On Thursday, the board of directors of D.C.'s transit authority temporarily suspended what it calls "issue-oriented advertisements" throughout the D.C.-area Metrorail and bus system through the end of the calendar year. That category, according to a motion by the chair of the Board of Directors, includes but is not limited to "political, religious, and advocacy advertising."
The move by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority seems to be a response to the efforts of American Freedom Defense Initiative Founder Pamela Geller. She previously bought ads on Metro that read: "Support Israel. Defeat Jihad." This time, Geller planned to depict a menacing image of Muhammad in advertisements, with the caption "You can't draw me! That's why I draw you."
Geller showcased the ad on Breitbart.com. The drawing was created by Bosch Fawstin, the winner of Geller's Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest in Garland, Texas, earlier this month. That's the same event where authorities thwarted an attack that ISIS took credit for, with two men coming out of a car and firing assault rifles at the contest venue.
In her Breitbart article, Geller said the ad had been submitted to WMATA to run "on buses and train dioramas in the Foggy Bottom, Capitol South, Bethesda, L'Enfant Plaza, and Shady Grove stations."
"Drawing Muhammad is not illegal under American law, but only under Islamic law. Violence that arises over the cartoons is solely the responsibility of the Islamic jihadists who perpetrate it. Either America will stand now against attempts to suppress the freedom of speech by violence, or will submit and give the violent the signal that we can be silenced by threats and murder."
"We cannot submit to the assassin's veto."
In a statement to NPR, WMATA spokeswoman Morgan Dye said, "In the coming months, Metro will fully consider the impact that issue-related advertisements have on the community by gathering input from riders, local community groups and advocates." Dye said WMATA will also examine any legal concerns around the display of such advertisements, and that an internal review and outreach period will take place. No timeline was given for the completion of that review.