Judge OKs Muslim film ads rejected by New York subway agency

NEW YORK (AP) – A federal judge gave a green light Wednesday to light-hearted subway advertisements promoting a documentary about American Muslim comedians, saying a transportation agency improperly labeled them political in nature.

The ads for the 2013 film “The Muslims Are Coming!” were rejected this year by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subway system and the rest of the nation’s largest mass transit network. The MTA, which had first approved the ads, later concluded they violated its new ban on political ads.

Judge Colleen McMahon said the advertisements, created by two Muslim comedians, were not primarily political.

“That the advertisements at issue gently mock prejudice and employ Islamophobia as a comedic device does not make their message ‘prominently or predominantly’ political,” she wrote.

The advertisements, originally scheduled to run in April and May, were designed to promote the concept that American Muslims are ordinary people and to boost viewership of the film, produced by Vaguely Qualified Productions, which sued in June.

The ads were being placed in the subway system in part to counter a campaign by an organization seeking to display ads critical of Muslims, the judge noted.

One among six proposed ads included the statement: “The Ugly Truth About Muslims: Muslims have great frittata recipes.”

Another said: “Muslims hate terrorism! They also hate: People who tell you they went to an Ivy League school within 10 seconds of meeting them … When the deli guy doesn’t put enough schmear on your bagel … Hipsters who wear winter hats in the summer … the pickling of everything …”

All the advertisements included the Internet address of a website promoting the film.

The judge called it “utterly unreasonable” that an MTA official would arbitrarily decide that an advertisement including the word “Muslims” was political.

The MTA said it was reviewing the judge’s decision.

The judge said the MTA delved deeply into whether the ads’ creators had a political objective by seeking information about the organization. She said there was no evidence that the MTA so thoroughly researched other ads when it sought to determine whether they were political in nature.

“Indeed, the evidence before the court plainly indicates that VQP’s silly advertisements were subject to greater scrutiny than other potentially controversial ads,” she wrote.

Comedians Dean Obeidallah and Negin Farsad celebrated the ruling supporting their ads.

“We’re thrilled that the judge in this case recognized that our Muslim background was not a political issue,” Obeidallah said.

“Shutting down a couple of American Muslim comedians from spreading delightfulness on the subway? That never made sense,” Farsad said.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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