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ACLU Sues King County Over Banning Anti-Israel Bus Ads

Meghan Walker

The ACLU of Washington has filed suit against King County for refusing to run anti–Israel ads on Metro buses.

Taylor: "We should keep in mind that the purpose of the First Amendment is to protect speech that is difficult to hear and that makes people uncomfortable. Mild speech doesn't need our protection."

That's the ACLU's Kathleen Taylor. The lawsuit is on behalf of the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, or SeaMAC. They created the ad. KUOW's Meghan Walker has more.


The ad reads, "Israeli War Crimes, Your Tax Dollars at Work." Next to the text is a photo of a group of Palestinians standing next to a crumbled building.

ACLU executive director Kathleen Taylor says the county shouldn't be allowed to censor SeaMAC's ad.

Taylor: "Our governments cannot decide that government gets to stop speech because it's going to be disruptive. Speech is often disruptive. That's how change happens. That's the definition of change. It's going from here, to here."

The ad had previously been approved by the county's bus advertising company back in November. But less than a month later, after SeaMAC's payment was processed, King County pulled the ad before it had a chance to run.

Ed Mast is with SeaMAC. He says the county had no grounds to drop the ad.

Mast: "Our ad is a factual claim. Our ad is appropriate speech. King County reviewed it and decided that our ad is appropriate speech for a designated public forum. We, in the first place, rejected stronger terms. We rejected other language and rhetorical language in favor of a factual claim based on legal language. 'War–crimes' means grave violations of the Geneva Conventions."

But the county still insists the ad is too risky to run. Frank Abe is a King County spokesperson.

Abe: "The widespread and often vitriolic international response to the ad running created a reasonably foreseeable risk of harm to or disruption of the bus system. And the county's job is to provide efficient transit system to the public."

Metro buses have a history of running controversial ads. One atheism ad read, "Yes Virginia, there is no God." A different anti–Israel ad in 2009 read "Save Gaza."

Taylor says the county's actions violate basic free speech rights.

Taylor: "This is not violent rhetoric. This is a political statement, and we have to recognize that in a democracy you're going to have people that disagree with each other. And we can't presume that because a person disagrees with the Mideast Awareness Campaign, that that person is going to engage in violence, what's that saying of everybody that disagrees with his position?"

ACLU and SeaMAC's lawsuit seeks a court declaration that the county's decision violates the First Amendment. They also want a preliminary injunction against King County and an order that it publish the ad as originally promised.

For KUOW News, I'm Meghan Walker.

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