The placement of Pamela Geller’s anti-Muslim “savages” ads in the District of Columbia have spurred a wide range of religious groups to counter the ads’ message. A coalition of 157 religious groups from across the DC Metro-area signed onto a letter to the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority, pressing them to take stronger steps to work against hate speech.
In the letter, the coalition requested that WMATA pursue greater outreach to communities before publishing possibly inflammatory advertisements in and on the area’s public transit, add disclaimers to such ads that they do not represent WMATA’s views, and allow free ad space to counter hate speech. The coalition also sought to preempt accusations that their desire was to limit the First Amendment:
With respect to your response in this matter, it is not our desire that WMATA disallow advertisements that contain any political speech as this would curtail the use of an important forum where ideas are frequently exchanged. We respect the protections afforded to political speech, and do not wish that our position be misinterpreted as advocating for the curtailment of such speech. This being said, we do believe there are measures WMATA can take to mitigate the effect hate speech has on the community and encourage you to take the above listed steps in crafting a principled and effective response.
Several of the coalition members are also working to counter the ads purchased by Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative more directly. Sojourners, a DC-based social justice group, is running a campaign known as “Love Your Muslim Neighbors” that will now be coming to DC. The associated ads will run at the U Street and Georgia Avenue/Petworth Metrorail stations, two of the four AFDI ad locations.
In a press release, Timothy King, Chief Communications Officer of Sojourners said, “We have a Christian obligation to counteract this hatred wherever it is, but these ads have come right to our doorstep. Sojourners has been in this neighborhood since the mid-70’s, so it’s especially important for us to be a witness in this community, and this city.”
Likewise, the United Methodist Women, which is currently running counter-advertisements to the New York City version of Geller’s ads, will be bringing their campaign to the DC Metro. The DC-version of the advertisements will be sponsored by a group of organizations in tandem and run at the Takoma Park and Glenmont Metrorail stations, as well as a third location closer to downtown DC. Between the two campaigns, counter-ads will be running at all of AFDI’s locations.