(JTA) — A federal lawsuit has been filed against King County, Wash., for its decision to reject advertisements about "Israeli war crimes" on downtown Seattle buses.
The Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle last week charging that King County violated the campaign’s First Amendment rights. The suit asks the court to order the county to place the ad for four weeks on the sides of 12 buses, as the Metro Transit system and its ad agency originally agreed to do.
The Seattle Midwest Awareness Campaign had paid $1,794 to place the advertisements on 12 buses beginning Dec. 27, the second anniversary of the day Israel entered Gaza to stop rocket attacks on its southern communities. The ads feature a group of children looking at a demolished building under the heading "Israeli War Crimes: Your tax dollars at work."
On Dec. 24, King County Executive Dow Constantine ordered the Metro Transit system to reject the ad as well as any other new noncommercial advertising.
The acceptance of the ad had generated thousands of responses by phone, fax and e-mail, many from out of the county and state, according to reports.
Constantine ordered a review of the transit system’s advertising policy. Under the current policy, advertisements are accepted for Seattle buses as long as they do not publicize pornography, alcohol or tobacco, and the images and material used do not interfere with public safety or incite a riot. Constantine said Dec. 24 that the proposed ads presented "significant security concerns."
Ed Mast, spokesman for the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, said during a Jan. 20 news conference that his organization was formed early last year to publicize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a broader audience. The group chose to place advertisements on Metro buses because they accepted controversial advertising and their price "brought it within reach of a nonprofit, grass-roots, all-volunteer organization," he said.
ACLU Executive Director Kathleen Taylor said the security concerns should have been addressed without cancelling the ads.