The ACLU Is Writing the First Amendment in Arabic on Billboards as a Rebuke to Trump

Emergence Creative crafts striking outdoor work

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A bold new out-of-home campaign for the American Civil Liberties Union in New York’s Times Square and Washington, D.C., aims to remind viewers that the U.S. Constitution protects every individual’s right to freedom of speech and religion—no matter what Donald Trump says.

The First Amendment to that document reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The principle applies to all people in this country, be they American citizens or immigrants. It also flies in the face of the controversial “Muslim ban” that President Trump ordered in January in an effort to halt immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries for 120 days and end the entry of Syrian refugees into the U.S. indefinitely.

This month, the ACLU partnered with New York agency Emergence Creative to launch a campaign confirming that “We the People” means everyone. It consists of a series of billboards running in and around the Times Square area until June 25 along with bus-stop ads in D.C. They are running in English, Spanish and Arabic to reinforce the campaign’s themes of universal rights, and they’re supplemented by 15-second videos airing twice an hour on the massive screens at the corner of 43rd Street and Broadway in Manhattan.

They also aired during a fundraising concert in early April at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

“I grew up in Virginia, in Thomas Jefferson’s backyard, so we were raised with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as local history, as something living and very real,” said Emergence co-founder and chief creative officer Eric Verkerke. “The Constitution applies to everyone, and those principles translate into any language.”

Verkerke and fellow agency co-founder Raj Pannu approached the ACLU with the idea in December after Trump’s surprise election. “I knew we had to do it,” said the ACLU’s associate director of strategic communications, Stacy Sullivan. “So much of the work we do at the ACLU revolves around the First Amendment. Seeing it translated into other languages, at a time when President Trump’s rhetoric has been so hostile to immigrants, really struck a chord with us.”

The Trump administration has attempted to argue that the Executive Order 13769 does not amount to a “Muslim ban.” But former adviser Rudy Giuliani used that very phrase to describe it during a January appearance on Fox News. As a candidate, Trump issued a press release “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” That statement remains on his official website.

The order’s future is uncertain; it is currently tied up in the U.S. court system after both the original and a redrafted version were struck down by circuit court judges.

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@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.