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Judge Rules MTA Must Allow Ads From Muslim Comedians

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A federal judge on Wednesday ordered that a pair of Muslim comedians must be allowed to post their ads on the subway.

U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon ruled that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority must accept the ads from the group Vaguely Qualified Productions.

Comedians and filmmakers Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah originally created the advertisements to help promote their 2013 comedy documentary "The Muslims Are Coming." They said the overall message of both the ads and the film is "that American Muslims are ordinary people."

Farsad and Obeidallah said they paid the MTA nearly $15,000 to run the ads, which they were told would be put up in 140 subway stations in April. When the ads didn't go up on the scheduled date, they called the MTA but didn't hear back for several days -- until they were told the ads would violate a policy that went into effect in the interim, which bans ads that are "political in nature."

Glenn Katon, their attorney with the civil rights group Muslim Advocates, said the two "had a constitutional right to post the ads under the old policy." He claimed the MTA "reneged on the deal" and now wants a federal judge to order the agency to put up the advertisements. The two are not challenging the MTA's ability to enact policies, but instead are arguing that their advertisements are not political and do not violate the policy.

In a recent court filing, the MTA's director of real estate said he had determined the ads violated the policy because they "prominently or predominantly advocate or express a political message."

The ads include, among others, the phrases: "The Ugly Truth About Muslims: Muslims have great frittata recipes" and "Muslims! They invented coffee, the toothbrush and algebra --- Oh wait, sorry about the algebra. That's a year of class you'll never get back."

"There's nothing political about them," Farsad told WCBS 880's Marla Diamond in June. "We have an ad that says 'Muslims hate terrorism.' And then there's a list of all the other things that they also hate, and one of them is kale; one of them is stepping in poop," which they changed upon the MTA's request.

But the judge agreed that the ads were not political in nature.

McMahon ruled that "the text of the messages…is not 'prominently or predominantly political' – unless we have reached the unhappy moment in this country where the mere mention of one of the three Abrahamic faiths is 'prominently or predominantly political' simply because that faith is Islam," according to a news release.

Attorney Katon praised the judge's decision.

"The court decision upholds our claim that sharing humor and stories by and about American Muslims educates the public about our community and should not be considered political speech," Katon said in a news release. "We applaud the court's decision to allow the ads to run in the MTA system."

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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