BY NIRAJ WARIKOO
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
An Ann Arbor group announced Monday it has filed a request with a federal court seeking to require a metro Detroit bus agency to run ads aimed at Muslims who want to leave Islam.
The Thomas More Law Center, a conservative legal group, filed a motion for a temporary restraining order on Thursday that asks a federal judge to side with a New Hampshire-based group that often criticizes Islam. The Thomas More center had filed a lawsuit against SMART last month on behalf of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, Pamela Geller of New York and Robert Spencer of New Hampshire. The plaintiffs are critics of Islamic extremism.
A SMART spokeswoman did not give any explanation as to why the bus agency refused to run the ad.
Robert Muise, an attorney with the Thomas More center, said the bus agency is a government entity and so it violated the First Amendment by not allowing the ad to run. He said that similar ads have run on buses in Florida and New York. The ads read: “Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got Questions? Get Answers!”
Muise noted that SMART had run an ad earlier this year by an atheist group that read: “Don’t Believe in God? You are not alone.” Muise said that decision shows there is a double standard in SMART’s policies. He said that SMART’s own policy says it may “not censor free speech” and is “required to provide equal access to advertising.”
Local Muslim leaders support SMART’s decision.
“They surely have the prerogative to deny carrying anti-Muslim ads in a locality which has one of the largest Muslim populations in North America,” said Dawud Walid, head of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.