Published: Oct 27, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Oct 27, 2012 04:13 PM
CHAPEL HILL - A Town Council decision to suspend new bus advertising won’t stop a local church’s controversial call to end U.S. military aid to Israel.
The council’s 6-1, unscheduled vote Wednesday night followed the discovery that a policy change last year banned most political and religious ads, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said.
The town will keep existing ads up until their contract runs out, to “respect the agreement we already have in place,” Kleinschmidt said. The council will discuss the policy and could make changes Nov. 5.
Council member Penny Rich, who cast Wednesday’s dissent, said the town should pull any ads in violation now. The council needs to decide “how do we fix this and how do we make sure something like this never happens again,” she said.
The town’s bus ad policy has been a point of contention since the Church of Reconciliation paid $774 in August to run 98 ads inside Chapel Hill Transit buses for one year.
The ad shows a pair of Palestinian and Israeli grandfathers holding their grandchildren with the message: “Join with us. Build peace with justice and equality. End U.S. military aid to Israel.”
Town Manager Roger Stancil and Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos were reviewing the bus advertising policy this week when they noticed a copy from the town clerk’s office was inconsistent with the one Chapel Hill Transit had been using. They realized the council approved an amended policy June 13, 2011.
The amended policy specifically bans religious advertising “in which the primary message is one promoting or opposing religion, particular religions, religious issues, or religious doctrines.” It also bans ads that promote or oppose “a particular view on political or social issues.”
The policy change slipped through the cracks, probably because the council also approved exterior bus wraps, Kleinschmidt said.
“This was an extraordinarily rare thing to ever happen in this town. It was a mistake, it was discovered, and we’re quickly taking action to remedy it,” he said.
The church’s ad also prompted an opposing ad from the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a New York-based group. The AFDI ad, which the town has not approved or rejected, implies Muslims are savages. It reads: “In any war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
Kleinschmidt said the AFDI ad had nothing to do with the council’s decision Wednesday night.
AFDI executive director Pamela Geller called the decision “cowardly.”
The anti-aid ad “had been running for a month,” she said. “This ad should provide a counterpoint.”
The AFDI is posting ads in every market that runs the anti-aid ad, including New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Portland, she said. The ads also are running on San Francisco’s Muni but alongside cards that say its ad policy prohibits discrimination and condemns statements describing any group as savages.
AFDI is mounting First Amendment legal battles in cities that refuse to run the ads, including New York and Washington, both of which lost their lawsuits.
Geller said her group wants to promote discussion about thousands of “savage” jihad attacks, bombings and thwarted plots in the United States and around the world. The ad does not refer to all Muslims but to those who are waging jihad, or holy war, she said.