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New Metro bus ad related to campaign that sparked fear, went to court

A human rights group is using the familiar 'I'm a Mormon' campaign to get its formerly controversial message out.
Composite image by Jake Ellison
A human rights group is using the familiar 'I'm a Mormon' campaign to get its formerly controversial message out.

Battles over billboards and bus ads have gotten heated in many cities, most notably the battle between atheists and believers in New York City that's heating up again, but not many end up in court. One that did in Seattle last year, is back on the streets … on the sides of King County Metro buses.

“I’m Palestinian … Equal rights for all.”

The message, resonate of the pleasant smiling faces declaring they are Mormon on many Metro buses, seems innocuous enough. But the new ads come from the same group that took the county to court after officials felt the group’s original ad campaign could result in violence.

The ad that caused a legal fight and a change in county policy: “Israeli War Crimes.Your Tax Dollars at Work.”

The first round

Last year, King County Executive Dow Constantine said the escalation of global interest in the bus placard introduced significant security concerns and makes Metro buses vulnerable to disruption.  And because of that, he approved an interim policy that called for a halt to the acceptance of any new non-commercial advertising on King County buses.

The group behind the ad – Seattle Mideast Awareness – sued to have the country ruling overturned. They lost and are considering an appeal.

“We continue to believe that free speech should be allowed on Metro buses and that the people of Seattle do not need to be protected from discussion of controversial issues,” said ACLU-WA communications director Doug Honig said in October.

Unexpected fall out

The county ruling also resulted in unexpected consequences when an ad campaign to promote healthy eating by children got nixed.

The advertisements were featured on Seattle-area television, radio and billboards and just about the only place you couldn’t find the ads was on Metro buses.

The transit agency said the advertisements violated its policy regarding public service announcements. The policy, adopted April 8th, prohibits ads that express a viewpoint on “matters of public debate about economic, political, religious or social issues.”

So far, reports Metro spokeswoman Linda Thielke, 12 ads went up on Metro buses this week and the county has received no complaints about them. 

Here is CNN's report on the billboard battle between atheists and believers in New York.