New York – It was a colorful billboard intended to advise women flying from Newark International Airport during the busy holiday season that no one could force them to change their seat to accommodate the religious preferences of male passengers.
But the advertisement, designed to be hung on the walls of El Al’s passenger lounge, was nixed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who deemed it inconsistent with agency guidelines.
Featuring two adjoining airline seats, with a pair of red and white ladies shoes on the floor in front of one of the chairs while a black hat occupies the other, the advertisement bears the words “Ladies, please take your seat… …and keep it!”
The billboard, which also contained a reminder that gender-based switches are against the law, was created by the Israel Religious Action Center, a progressive Jewish organization that defends the freedoms of Reform and Conservative Jews and opposes gender segregation in public areas.
According to The New York Times, IRAC resolved to post the advertisement in time for Rosh Hashana after a Chasidic man tried to switch his seat on a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Tel Aviv last year to avoid sitting next to a woman.
However, the Port Authority rejected the billboard on the grounds that it violated two agency guidelines: a requirement that display ads promote only products or services and another that bans any political or religious content.
A civil rights attorney hired by IRAC informed the Port Authority of legal precedents set in two other cases, where agencies that failed to approve ads that could be seen as public service announcements were found to be in violation of the First Amendment. The Port Authority has agreed to review its guidelines in relation to the IRAC display.
According to IRAC’s newsletter, The Pluralist, the group has been tracking incidents of this nature since November 2014.
A list of guidelines published by IRAC in January 2015 criticizes airlines for their policy of resolving “requests for gender-segregated seating in a quiet and expedited manner that may not be in the best interest of female passengers.”
The guidelines also advise female passengers not feel pressured to accommodate seat change requests, saying that they are not responsible for any flight delays that may occur if they refuse to move to a different seat.