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Seattle Bus Ads

March 18, 2015 Update: The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district judge’s decision in favor of the King County Metro system, ruling that the advertising restrictions were “reasonable and viewpoint neutral,” and that because buses are a “limited public forum” these restrictions “did not violate the First Amendment.”.

October 11, 2011 Update: Judge Richard Jones dismissed the case, ruling that “King County’s decision to reject the (advertisement) was a viewpoint-neutral and reasonable restriction in a limited public forum.”  The ACLU is considering an appeal.

February 18, 2011 Update: A federal judge in Seattle, Richard Jones, denied SeaMAC’s demand for a preliminary injunction requiring Metro to run the anti-Israel bus ad.  The decision was based on the judge’s finding that buses are a “limited public forum” where it is not a violation of the First Amendment for the County to have and enforce a reasonable policy restricting advertising.  The judge further found that the restrictions were reasonable, as was their application to the anti-Israel buses, in light of the threats of disruption and, potentially, violence.  The case will now proceed to trial. [Read the court decision.]

Press coverage:

Background

On December 17, 2010, King 5 TV reported that a group called the “Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign” (SeaMAC) purchased ads on King County Metro Transit bus highlighting “Israeli War Crimes.”

"Israeli War Crimes" Seattle Metro Bus Ad

The outcry was swift and loud.  Metro officials and members of the King County Council that oversees the transit service received thousands of email messages and phone calls outraged and indignant about the proposed ads. Many objected to the demonization of Israel, seeing it as a one-sided indictment that ignores Palestinian terrorism, years of rocket attacks against Israel, and Israeli efforts to protect Palestinian civilians.  Others pointed out the potential dangers of such incitement; in July 2006, a local Muslim-American went on a murderous shooting spree at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, saying he was “angry at Israel” as he killed one woman and gravely injured five others.  With this experience in mind, the proposed campaign would violate Metro’s own policy, which rejects ads that “interfere with public safety or insult specific groups to the point that a riot could be incited, vandalism could occur or public safety could be threatened.”

Metro also received requests from two non-local groups, the American Friends of Democracy Initiative and the David Horowitz Freedom Center, to purchase bus space for pro-Israel (or anti-Arab/anti-Palestinian) ads.

AFDI Bus Ad David Horowitz Freedom Center Bus Ad

Metro officials met with leaders of Jewish and pro-Israel organizations in Seattle and heard their concerns.  After considering the community sensitivities and potential backlash, King County Executive Dow Constantine issued a statement on December 23 announcing that none of the ads would be accepted, and that Metro would develop a new policy for non-commercial advertising on buses:

“My job is to deliver essential services to the people of King County, including transit service,” he added. “I have consulted with federal and local law enforcement authorities who have expressed concern, in the context of this international debate, that our public transportation system could be vulnerable to disruption.

“Metro sells advertising to raise revenues to provide transit service. Metro’s existing policy restricts advertising that can be reasonably foreseen to result in harm to, disruption of, or interference with the transportation system. Given the dramatic escalation of debate in the past few days over these proposed ads, and the submission of inflammatory response ads, there is now an unacceptable risk of harm to or disruption of service to our customers should these ads run.” more….

Press Coverage

Blog Posts

Organizations’ Statements


Responses from Elected Officials

King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer: Click here


King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn

Thank you for contacting me regarding the anti-Israel ad that may appear on King County buses starting on December 27th.  I appreciate that you took the time to write.

Below you will find an e-mail that I wrote to Executive Constantine where I asked him to pull the ad.  I find the ad to be hateful and dangerous.  In my view, it is perfectly reasonable for King County to refuse to run it.

As I explained to Executive Constantine, I have a connection to this issue that makes it extremely personal to me.  I have prosecuted cases involving Hezbollah and Hamas.  I have visited Israel and have seen firsthand how wrong this rhetoric is.  It is unimaginable to me that King County could allow the public transit system to be used to spread hate.

Thank you again for contacting me.  If you have any additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me again.

Reagan Dunn
King County Councilmember

Executive Constantine,

I have had a chance to review the anti-Israel ad that will run on King County buses starting on December 27th.  Personally, I find this ad to be disgusting and hateful.  However, the question before us is whether the sponsoring group has a right to run the ads under our advertising policy.  I have reviewed our policy and believe that we have grounds to pull the ad immediately.

As a former federal prosecutor, I prosecuted narco-terrorism cases with connections to Hezbollah and Hamas.  I have also traveled extensively in Israel and have seen firsthand the dangers that Israel faces.  This dangerous and misleading rhetoric is designed to incite hate and potentially violence.  We have seen the tensions between Jews and Muslims erupt into violence right here in our own community.  It was only four years ago that a man walked into the Seattle Jewish Federation building and shot six women.

Metro’s advertising policy states that we can reject ads that incite a “breach of public safety, peace and order.”  It is my view that this ad is indeed designed to incite such a breach.  As such, the ad should be pulled immediately and in the future such ads should be rejected out of hand.

Thank you for reviewing King County’s policies on bus advertising.  I trust that you will make the proper decision.

Reagan Dunn
King County Councilmember


King County Councilmember Jane Hague (District 6)

Thank you for sharing with me your concerns regarding the anti-Israeli bus ads.  Over the past several days I have received a significant amount of correspondence from constituents citing their concern these ads which were bought by a local organization called the “Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign.”  The ad reads “Israeli War Crimes Your tax dollars at work,” and has an image of a group of children staring at a destroyed building.   Like you, I find the ad disturbing.  Today I sent a letter to the Executive and Metro officials demanding that they put a halt the ads until King County has a chance to review its advertising policies.

As of now, I’m still waiting for a response from Prosecutor’s office as to what can be done in this situation.  Regardless it’s very clear that the Council needs to undertake a comprehensive review of Metro’s ad policies.  I find this all the more relevant given the Council’s recently passed legislation, which calls for the incorporation of “equity and social justice” into King County’s new Countywide Strategic Plan.

We need to be mindful that inflammatory speech like this can affect many groups including our Jewish Community. I strongly believe in freedom of speech and our first amendment rights.  However, the County does has the power to put criteria in regards to advertising.  Messages like these, that lack basic civility, can incite violence against minorities and various religious communities.  We need to be able to protect those who can be hurt as a result.

Again, I appreciate your concern on this matter. I’ll keep you up-to-date as this issue develops and I encourage you to contact me if you have any additional questions.

Sincerely,

Jane Hague
King County Council – District 6
Email:
jane.hague@kingcounty.gov
Phone: 206-296-1006

http://www.kingcounty.gov/Hague


King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert (District 3)

Thank you for sharing your input regarding the new advertisement that is scheduled to appear on Metro buses later this month.  The county has received a great deal of comments from citizens on both sides of the issue.  As a direct result of the meaningful feedback received, the King County Executive is working with Metro to review the county’s current advertising policies for non-commercial bus ads.

Some of these controversial non-commercial advertisements cost the county more in staff time to address the public response to them than we receive in revenues from the ad itself.  We want to be sure that our time is spent effectively and efficiently serving the King County citizenry, as opposed to needing to respond to controversial ads.

As the county undertakes this review, we will be mindful of the fact that there are free speech protections in the state and federal constitution that limit the county’s ability to regulate advertising content.  The county will consider this as well as any potential unintended consequences as we evaluate any potential changes to the policy.

My office will be working closely with the King County Executive and Metro to ensure that the most appropriate outcome is implemented.  If you have additional comments that you would like to share as we work through this process, you can contact Metro directly at customer.comments@kingcounty.gov or 206-553-3000 to have your comments documented.

Thanks, again, for taking the time to write.

Kathy Lambert
District 3
(206) 296-1003
kathy.lambert@kingcounty.gov
www.kingcounty.gov/lambert


King County Councilmember Larry Philips (District 4)

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns about planned Metro bus ads that were critical of U.S. aid to Israel.  I share your very serious concerns with this proposed advertising and agree with you that these ads do not have a place on our Metro buses.

I have two main reasons for believing these ads should not run on Metro buses.  First, I am a longtime friend of Israel and its struggle to obtain peace and gain acceptance from its very hostile neighbors, and am very concerned about the potential for these ads to unleash needless hatred and violence in our community.  Second, Metro Transit’s mission and consistent priority must be to transport people safely to work, school, home, and appointments, and these planned ads were clearly disruptive to this purpose of our public transit agency.  The purpose of transit advertising is to raise revenue for public transit services, and Metro’s existing policy restricts advertising that can be reasonably foreseen to result in harm to, disruption of, or interference with the transit system; the proposed ads clearly do this.

Consequently, I support the Executive’s decision to reject the planned ad-and all other ads in the same category of “non-commercial” advertising-until Metro Transit’s advertising policy can be reviewed and revised.  I do this fully aware of my belief in and advocacy for free speech.  As a government agency, we are bound to respect and uphold constitutional rights, including the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.  So, in delivering essential public services like transit, we are bound to deliver them in a fair and impartial way, without favoring one group over another.  For these reasons, a careful review of the advertising policies is warranted, and I appreciate the legal analysis that is currently underway to make sure that as we go forward, the Constitution is respected.  I look forward to reviewing the Executive’s analysis and proposed policy changes for advertising on Metro Transit.

Thank you again for contacting me regarding this important issue.  Please know that your voice made a difference.  I appreciate your advocacy on behalf of our community.

Sincerely,

Larry Phillips, Councilmember
Metropolitan King County Council, District Four
King County Courthouse
516 Third Avenue, Room 1200
Seattle, WA 98104-3272
206.296.1004
larry.phillips@kingcounty.gov