CASTELLI QUESTIONS MTA’S REACTIONARY CENSORSHIP
Assemblyman Robert J. Castelli (R, C – Goldens Bridge) is calling for action regarding the escalating controversy over hateful, non-commercial advertisements on Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) properties. The MTA Board met today to discuss its non-commercial advertising policy following a spate of public outcry.
“In July, I warned of coming tensions between Israeli and Palestinian supporters in our community if the MTA did not take action against hateful advertising, and that is exactly what has transpired over the last several months,” Castelli said. “What we predicted would happen is exactly what happened. You cannot allow some kinds of political speech while disallowing others.”
In July, Assemblyman Castelli wrote to MTA-Metro North Railroad President Howard Parmut in response to a billboard posted at Metro North stations in Westchester with inflammatory implications towards Israel, warning that it would incite tension in the community should it be allowed to remain posted. Since then, more negative ads have been placed in response, leading to a U.S. District Court ruling that the MTA’s policy on prohibiting demeaning content was too vague.
“After the MTA laid off soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, we utilized the power of the pen to get them rehired, while promising legislative action,” Castelli said. “We passed one of my first bills to ensure that situation never happened again. While I am pleased that the MTA is finally reexamining its policies on this issue, it may be time for legislative action to ensure this particular scenario does not occur again.”
In response, Castelli has considered drafting legislation to clarify this issue once and for all. Currently, the MTA has been guided solely by an internally-written policy statement. At the same time, Mr. Castelli’s opponent, who is the chair of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC), has remained woefully-silent on this issue, much as he had on the MTA payroll tax. The Federal Judge’s ruling suggested the MTA either drop its restrictions on offensive political statements, or restrict its advertisers to strictly commercial messages, as Castelli has proposed.
“It is time for action to prevent these situations from arising and disrupting the peace in our unified community,” Castelli said. “As a soldier and educator I have the highest regard for the First Amendment, but the train platform, much like a school ball-field or playground, is not the venue for this type of advertisement. As Voltaire wrote, ‘I may not agree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.’ However, this is neither carte blanch for government-sanctioned hate speech, nor the allowance or disallowance one of group’s point of view at the expense of another.”
Castelli’s sentiments and stance on this issue are in keeping with his legislative background on First Amendment issues. Last year, he helped craft and pass a law which prohibited protests at military funerals except beyond a certain distance.