An advertising campaign on the SEPTA transit system featuring anti-Islamic messages was roundly condemned by members of the Religious Leaders Council of Philadelphia, of which Archbishop Charles Chaput is a key leader.

The four-week campaign running on 84 buses in the system began April 2. It was purchased by a New-Hampshire-based group called the American Freedom Initiative. Although SEPTA initially declined to accept the ads last September, a court ruling in March forced the system to run the campaign.

“While we affirm the constitutional protection of free speech, that does not diminish our condemnation of irresponsible speech,” the religious leaders said in a statement dated April 7 and released by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia today, April 9. “The language used in these proposed advertisements is distorted, prejudicial, and inflames hatred.”

The 32 members of the council represent the Roman Catholic and Ukrainian Catholic archdioceses, Orthodox churches, various Protestant churches, Hispanic clergy, Jewish and Muslim congregations and other faiths including the Baha’i community, all in Philadelphia.

“It was our hope as religious leaders,” the letter read, “that hate-filled messages would not be carried throughout the neighborhoods of Philadelphia on the sides of SEPTA buses, trolleys, and subways. We condemn inflammatory messages that serve to divide, stigmatize, and incite prejudice.

“We will continue to reject attempts to stereotype any tradition or community. Working as spiritual leaders and working with the members of the diverse faith and ethnic communities within Philadelphia, our challenge and our hope is to strengthen the ties among all communities to improve the quality of life.”

The leaders also called on everyone to join them in “opposing intolerance and building trust and understanding.”

The Religious Leaders Council was begun in 2006 under former Philadelphia archbishop Cardinal Justin Rigali and other leaders. Archbishop Chaput is considered a co-convener along with Bishop Claire Schenot Burkat of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Imam Anwar Muhaimin of Quba Masjid and Rabbi David Straus of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

The council is coordinated by the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia. Learn more at interfaithcenterpa.org.