The title of this post more or less speaks for itself, I think. I wish the issue did as well.

Pamela Geller wants to run an ad in the New York subways that says opponents of Israel personify “the savage.” The ad is bigoted and idiotic (image below the fold, if one cares). But the First Amendment does not contain exceptions for bigotry or idiocy. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is a public agency. Public transit agencies are required to run ads even when they can’t stand their content. (The famous case here is Lebron v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, famous partly because the decision telling the Washington Metro that it couldn’t ban a satirical poster critical of Ronald Reagan was written by Robert Bork. He was actually good on most First Amendment issues and knew the difference between protected speech and approval of the speech thus protected.)

I have little doubt that Geller’s threat to sue the MTA will cause it to reverse its ban on the ad, as a similar threat by Geller did in the past. The MTA presumably knows its constitutional law by now, but has cynically calculated that it will gain PR benefits by initially denying Geller’s rights and appearing to grant them only later, reluctantly, and under threat of litigation. One of these days the geniuses who run the MTA may start to realize that denying Geller her rights, repeatedly, only helps a powerful racist spread her opinions and play the underdog.

And yes, this means that Geller should enjoy the same First Amendment rights that she would deny to Muslims seeking to build a community center several blocks from Ground Zero. The right to free speech, as always, protects the self-aware and the hypocrite alike.

Here’s the ad Geller wants to run:

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl is a Visiting Professor in the Program on Ethics, Politics, and Economics and in Political Science at Yale University.