July 18, 2010
Fighting for Free Speech in Detroit
When I tried to put ads on Detroit buses offering help to Muslims threatened by their families or communities for leaving Islam (e.g., Rifqa Bary), Detroit's SMART transportation authority banned the ads. This wasn't surprising in view of the large Muslim population in the Detroit area, but it was a key free speech issue: Is it still legal in America to say something Muslims don't like and reach out to Muslims endangered by Islam's death penalty for apostasy? Isn't this country based on individual rights and equal protection for all?
So my organization, FDI, filed suit. Was free speech still free? I went to Detroit on Tuesday to make the case -- and to testify in my lawsuit against Detroit for infringing on my freedom of speech. It was another day at the circus in the upside-down world of the left; the only difference is that the real circus is far more entertaining, and the animals are far more intelligent.
My hearing in Detroit was entertaining on a buffoonish level. The SMART legal team twisted itself into Gordian knots, doing everything it could to avoid the free speech issues involved. I half-expected Avery Gordon, lead attorney for SMART, to deliver his closing in the shape of a human pretzel. Gordon was quite taken with himself and his lawyerly acrobatics. Though few shared his enthusiasm, he strutted like a rooster and danced like a lummox. His arguments resembled the first really popular computer game, "pong," bouncing all over the map.
First, Gordon contended that SMART denied my ads because they were "political speech." He made this the centerpiece of his case. He denied that the ads were religious in nature. Are these ads political?
But under cross-examination, Beth Gibbons, a witness for SMART, admitted on the witness stand that the ads were not denied based on content. End game. Badabing, badaboom.
Gibbons went on to say that the ads were refused because of the "controversy" over them when they ran in Miami. She said that she had seen an opinion piece against the ads written by the Miami Herald's Jaweed Kaleem, a shill for the unindicted co-conspirator, Hamas-linked Muslim Brotherhood front group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Where did she see this piece? Get this: in the Department of Transit newsletter (online).
But the money quote from Gibbons was that the ad was rejected not because of its content. And Gordian-knot Gordon kept repeating that the viewpoint of the SMART authorities had nothing to do with the decision. So if it wasn't rejected for content, and none of their views, biases, and prejudices came into play, then why was it rejected?
Gordon's political speech argument had no legs, so he attacked me as an anti-jihadist. He also attacked my group, the Freedom Defense Initiative, my motives, my intent, blah blah blah -- but not the merits of my case. He then went on to say, in his closing remarks, that he (that is, SMART) did not care who was behind the ads -- it mattered not. (Then why the ad hominem attack?) And further, he could not identify who was behind the anti-G-d ads they ran or the abortion ad they wouldn't run. Mind you, FDI, though viciously attacked, was not even on the ad. RefugefromIslam.com is. And what has FDI got to do with the ad, anyway?
Gordian Gordan and I had a contentious back-and-forth on cross-examination. He wanted me to admit that FDI is a political organization, and hence that the ad was political. I stated specifically that FDI is a human rights organization dedicated to the freedom of speech (which is the political aspect of the organization) and religious liberty (religion). He did get angry with me at one point and asked the judge to "admonish the witness." Heh.
"Are you political or not?" he railed at me. Both, I said.
And frankly, what does that have to do with the price of eggs in China or our bus ads?
He even quoted my website, AtlasShrugs.com, and asked me, "Did you not say on your website today that you were coming here fully armed?" Here's what I actually wrote:
Armed with hundreds of pictures of honor killing victims, Rifqa Bary's testimony, screenshots of facebook fatwas on apostates, and the actual death fatwa issued at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most important institution of islamic law in the Sunni world and the authority that approved the revealing English-language guide to the Sharia (Islamic law): Reliance of the Traveller. Reliance of the Traveller is a one-volume manual of Sharia. (The title implies that this is a handy compendium of Islamic law so that when you're on the road, you know how to behave in unfamiliar situations.)
I said yes, absolutely. One should be fully armed and fight fiercely in defense of religious liberty and free speech, should one not? Is there anything more crucial? And he bellowed, "No, there's not." Sort of surprising himself, it seemed, that we were...agreeing.
Needless to say, my brilliant legal team, Robert Muise of the Thomas More Law Center (who made the closing remarks, steadfastly and superbly holding to first amendment protections), and David Yerushalmi, who argued the case and got the stunning admission from Beth Gibbons, were a freedom-lover's dream team.
I thought it was interesting that in Gordian Gordon's closing remarks, he hinted that the judge's decision would have political implications, apart from how it might also hurt their future commercial prospects, if she didn't rule in their favor.
Judge Hood will issue her ruling later this week on our injunction. Stay tuned.
It was a thoroughly exhausting and almost silly excursion. One has to ask why SMART is fighting this with such vigor. They are wrong. Categorically. And no matter the ruling, the transcript alone will make for knee-slapping legal incredulity. Detroit vs. free speech. If free people win this struggle, this case will invite ridicule on Detroit and SMART for years to come.
Pamela Geller is the editor and publisher of the Atlas Shrugs website and former associate publisher of the New York Observer. She is the author of The Post-American Presidency (coming July 27 from Simon & Schuster).