Following a year of constant delays, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has approved to display advertisements about American Muslims in the subway system after a court found in favor of the ads' creators.
The ads, which were created by comedians Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah to advertise their 2013 American comedy documentary The Muslims Are Coming! along with dispelling myths about the American Muslim community, were previously rejected and banned for display after the MTA concluded that the ads were "political in nature."
Muslim Advocates, an advocacy organization, filed a lawsuit in June 2015 on behalf of Vaguely Qualified Productions (VQP), the video production company that created the ads, challenging the MTA's refusal to run them by deeming the rejections as "unconstitutional" and a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. VQP writes in the complaint that the ads convey the same non-political theme conveyed in their film The Muslims are Coming! – that American Muslims are "ordinary people."
"This was beyond anything we ever expected in our lives," Co-Director of The Muslims Are Coming! Dean Obeidallah told VICE News. "The ads were not political. If you don't like Muslims, you'll see them as political. But they are not," Obeidallah added.
While the ads were initially submitted to the MTA for approval in November 2014, the MTA only approved the ads in March last year, more than four months after the submission. In May, the MTA then adopted a new advertising policy that banned political advertising in the subway. Called the "Revised Policy," the MTA board voted to classify the subway as a limited public forum and to permit only certain categories of advertisements.
When VICE News sent a list of questions about the case to the MTA, a spokesman responded with a statement saying that after prohibiting political advertising last year, US District Judge Colleen McMahon, one of the two federal judges that upheld the MTA's new advertising standard, concluded the MTA applied these standards incorrectly last year when they rejected displaying the advertisements.
"Respectfully, we believe the judge got it wrong, but we have decided not to spend more of the public's money appealing her decision," the MTA spokesman said. "The ads have been revised to state plainly that they are promoting a film, and they will soon be displayed in subway stations.
Muslim Advocates confirmed that the U.S. District Court in Manhattan ruled the text in the ads as "not prominently or predominantly political — unless we have reached the unhappy moment in this country where the mere mention of one of the three Abrahamic faiths is 'prominently or predominantly political' simply because that faith is Islam."