Controversial ads coming to SEPTA buses

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A series of controversial ads will start running on SEPTA buses as early as next week, now that SEPTA has decided not to fight the issue in court.

The ads will be on the side panels of 84 SEPTA buses. They depict a photo from the 1940s with Adolf Hitler talking to a Palestinian leader and the text: "Islamic Jew Hatred: It's in the Quran."

Earlier this month, SEPTA lost the fight to ban the ads in federal court. On Thursday, the chair of SEPTA's board, Pasquale Deon, said "after careful consideration, SEPTA has decided not to appeal the ruling."

Attorneys for the group that purchased the ads - the American Freedom Defense Initiative, or AFDI - called SEPTA's decision "prudent." They argue this was clear cut case of free speech.

SEPTA responded to the federal court's decision by changing its policy and now prohibiting all political ads.

"It's any ad that deals with any issue the public that is being in debate, any kind of individuals running for office," said SEPTA general counsel Gino Benedetti.

SEPTA acknowledges the ads may anger the some, and will crack down on vandalism.

Religious leaders said they appreciated the transit agency's efforts to stop the ads and will do what they can to promote understand in their religious communities.

"I can't say that there aren't individuals that would refuse to get on buses and things like that - wait for the next bus," said Imam Muhammad Abdur-Razzaq of Mosque Shaikh Muhaiyaddeen.

On the street, people took both sides in this debate.

"I am all for free speech but definitely not when it's going to offend other people," said Michael Wilks of Center City.

"If it's hurting someone, then it shouldn't be put on," said Dean Whitaker of Mount Airy.

"At the same time, we do have freedom of speech so we can't necessarily do anything about it," said Diana Soto of North Philadelphia.

AFDI is paying $30,000 for the ads that will run for four weeks only. SEPTA says it will work with any employees who may refuse to drive these buses. SEPTA expects its new policy will also be challenged in court.
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