HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – A controversial statement on a Metro-North Railroad billboard in Hastings is prompting officials to speak out and demand action – while the organization behind the message says it is expressing free speech.
A billboard sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative was put up on the southbound side of the Hastings Metro-North station last week, as well as throughout Westchester, bearing the message “19,250 Islamic Attacks since 9/11, It’s not Islamophobia, it’s Islamorealism.” The billboard has been damaged twice, but Pamela Geller, executive director of group, said the message will be back up soon.
The Hastings Board of Trustees, including Mayor Peter Swiderski, sent a villagewide email Friday condemning the billboard as hateful.
“While the Board respects everyone’s right to free speech, we categorically condemn the bigotry and innuendo expressed by this billboard message,” officials said in the email. “To tar a faith and its followers because of the actions of a few is deplorable, hateful and morally repugnant. Such an ad neither reflects the ideals of this community, nor, we believe, of our nation.”
The email also said the village board had filed a complaint with Metro-North’s media relations department.
“America welcomes people of all faiths, including millions of the Muslim faith who call our country (including those who live in our village) their home,” officials said in the email. “They, like the vast majority of believers in that (and all other) major religions, embrace peace and do not endorse the violence wrought by a fanatic few.”
Geller said the billboard was meant to “raise awareness of the nature and magnitude of the jihad threat.” She said her organization’s message is factual, not hate speech, and is protected by law.
“I stated a fact. Period,” Geller said. The First Amendment was passed precisely to protect the speech that is unpopular and out of favor with the political elites; speech that they favor needs no such protection. Truth is the new hate speech.”
Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner also addressed the controversy in a blog post titled "Metro North Should Not Make Profits From Hate Advertisements" that contained a television news article with quotes from Feiner.
Feiner further condemned the billboard’s message in a townwide email.
“I find the billboard to be very offensive – inflammatory,” Feiner said in the email. “There are many Muslims residing in Greenburgh and in our villages. They should not be discriminated against. The posters encourage hatred, discrimination and do not help the efforts to fight hate crimes.”
In the email, Feiner said he will contact Metro-North and recommend that large signs be posted next to the billboards stating that Metro-North does not share the opinions expressed in the billboards.