PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations reacted with disappointment in the ruling against SEPTA in its quest to bar an anti-Muslim organization from placing objectionable ads on its buses.
“We appreciated SEPTA’s efforts to uphold their anti-disparagement policy,” said Rue Landau, PCHR executive director. “We also respect the judge’s decision to uphold the First Amendment in this case, and recognize the tension this case elicited.
The New Hampshire-based American Freedom Defense Initiative has systematically been running a campaign of provocative ads disparaging Muslims and Islam throughout the United States, using transit systems. Yesterday’s ruling in U.S. District Court will add Philadelphia to a list that includes places such as Seattle and New York.
“As the city agency that protects the civil rights of all of Philadelphia’s residents and visitors, it is our job to ensure that no one feels this city is hostile toward them because of their religion, race, national origin, sexual orientation, ability, gender or gender identity. Ads like these make our job harder. They clearly violate our values, even if the judge ruled they don’t violate the law.”
An ecumenical group of leaders led by the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia is planning measures to counter the messages coming out of New Hampshire, and PCHR will be helpful in those efforts, said Rabbi Rebecca T. Alpert, who serves on the commission and teaches at Temple University.
Greater Philadelphia is home to one of the nation’s largest concentrations of Americans who practice Islam, with Philadelphia’s Muslim population ranking fourth among the top 10 U.S. cities. But as an organization established to promote peace, PCHR will intensify its efforts to soften any possible blow by this campaign, commissioners said.
“This is the city where American democracy was born, and there were many arguments about how it would be shaped and what it would say,” said Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner. “Sometimes, speech meant to hurt other people is still considered in the boundaries. But Allah commands us to love our neighbors, and to be faithful. That calling is true for all of us, whether you’re Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, whatever.
“This is Philadelphia. And we won’t let outsiders divide us by using hateful tactics.”