DETROIT (AP) _ A group that says it helps Muslims quit their faith has won a court order against Detroit's regional transit system for rejecting bus ads that ask, “Fatwa on your head? … Leaving Islam? Got questions? Get answers!''
U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood granted a preliminary injunction Thursday against the bus system, which was sued last year by the American Freedom Defense Initiative.
The advocacy group says the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation violated the group's First and 14th Amendment rights by rejecting the ads it submitted May 12.
"There is a strong likelihood," the judge wrote, that the ad's promoters could show that the bus company's decision to reject the ads "was not reasonable but rather arbitrary and capricious." Hood set a conference on the case for April 11.
Email messages seeking comment were left with the bus system's lawyers Friday. In court filings, the bus system said its policies against political and several other types of ads are constitutional.
A self-described Christian rights legal center representing the ads' sponsors said the bus company showed its double standard by accepting earlier atheism advocacy ads.
"In the past, SMART had no problem running an anti-religion ad … that stated, `Don't Believe in God? You are not alone," the Thomas More Law Center said in a news release.
Richard Thompson, president of the Ann Arbor-based center, said Hood's decision "represents a victory for free speech, but the battle is not over."
Thompson's group filed suit in U.S. District Court in Detroit on behalf of the group sponsoring the ads and group leaders Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. Geller leads an organization called Stop Islamization of America, and Spencer is head of the group Jihad Watch.
The Detroit area has one of the nation's most concentrated Muslim populations. About 300,000 people in the area have roots in the Arab world.
The Michigan leader of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the ruling is not the end of the matter and said his group respects the legal process. Executive Director Dawud Walid said the American Freedom Defense Initiative's ads are "designed to promote Islamophobia."
"This organization has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group in the same way as the Ku Klux Klan," Walid said.
The ads are headlined, “Leaving Islam?'' The text says: “Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Got questions? Get answers!''
Geller said the ads have run on buses in New York and Miami.
"I am thrilled, not just for the protection of free speech, but for those living in danger who will be helped by our freedom buses," Geller said in a posting on her website.