March 7, 2016
Issue: Stopping Discrimination
Previously Banned American Muslim Ads Go Up in New York Subways
MTA Complies After Court Rules Being Muslim is Not Political
New York, NY — Today, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) allowed comedic ads about American Muslims to go up in the subway system. The ads, created by Muslim comedians Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah use humor to dispel myths and promote understanding about the American Muslim community.
The ads were banned by the MTA under policies that restrict “disputed” political speech. In June 2015, Muslim Advocates filed a lawsuit on behalf of Vaguely Qualified Productions (VQP), the production company that created the ads, challenging the MTA’s refusal to run them. In October 2015, the court ruled that being Muslim is not political and paved the way for the ads to go up.
“This has taken a LONG time. All we wanted to do was show that Muslims have a hilarious side – to be allowed to tell our own stories and do it through jokes! We worried it would never happen,” said Negin Farsad, Comedian and Founder of Vaguely Qualified Productions and author of upcoming How to Make White People Laugh.”. “Have you ever experienced the New York City subways? When the guy next to you is invading your personal space, you’ll need a laugh.”
The ads run in the midst of a growing climate of anti-Muslim bigotry and hate across the country. Muslim Advocates has been tracking the spike in hate crimes targeting the American Muslims in recent months.
“We are gratified that the court allowed our clients to share their stories with the public. The ruling could not have come at a better time as many public figures continue to use dangerous and hateful rhetoric against the American Muslim community,” said Madihha Ahussain, Staff Attorney for the Program to Counter Anti-Muslim Hate at Muslim Advocates. “These ads allow American Muslims to speak for themselves and encourage the nation to stand together against hate and fear-mongering.”
The U.S. District Court in Manhattan ruled “The text of the messages…is 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.”
“We’re thrilled that finally our posters will go up and people will start loving Muslims!” said Dean Obeidallah, Comedian and Co-Director with Farsad of The Muslims are Coming!, the film the ads were designed to promote. “Okay, maybe one poster can’t make you actually love Muslims but perhaps it will be part of the courting process,” joked Obeidallah, host of SiriusXM radio’s The Dean Obeidallah Show.
Latham & Watkins LLP and Muslim Advocates served as co-counsel in the lawsuit filed on behalf of VQP, an award-winning video production company based in New York, NY. VQP makes viral video campaigns, TV and web shows, as well as narrative and documentary features, and specializes in comedy.
Read the court’s decision here and our original complaint here.
Muslim Advocates is a national legal advocacy and educational organization working on the frontlines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths. Through high impact lawsuits, policy advocacy, and community education, Muslim Advocates serves as a resource to empower communities and ensures that the American Muslim community is heard by the courts and leaders at the highest level of government. Visit Muslim Advocates at https://muslimadvocates.org and follow @muslimadvocates.