DC archdiocese sues transit agency over rejection of Christmas season ads

Paul Clement of Kirkland & Ellis

The Archdiocese of Washington filed suit in federal court November 28 over the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's advertising guidelines after the transit system rejected an Advent and Christmas advertisement. The only wording on the advertisement urged riders to locate a flawless gift via religion.

In return, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority was sued by Archdiocese of Washington.

In the summer of 2015, WMATA let Carafem, an abortion facility that styles itself as a "spa", advertise its lethal services.

Metro has rejected ads before, and, as the "Unsuck DC Metro" account pointed out, ends up racking up legal fees defending their censorship.

"Although all of the campaign's distribution channels are helpful for spreading the Archdiocese's message, there is no medium that will reach the Archdiocese's broad audience as consistently or effectively as bus advertising", the complaint reads.

The ad depicts shepherds walking up a mountain and prompts Metro and bus riders to visit findtheperfectgift.org, an annual initiative that directs locals to visit the church during the Christmas season.

"WMATA's ban on advertisements that promote or oppose any religion, religious practice or belief has established a regime that is hostile to religion", the suit says.

They also say that the imagery on their ad isn't even very religious - since it doesn't show Jesus, the manger or a cross. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

"To borrow from a favorite Christmas story, under WMATA's guidelines, if the ads are about packages, boxes or bags. if Christmas comes from a store. then it seems WMATA approves", spokesman Ed McFadden said in a statement. "The ad in question was declined because it is prohibited by WMATA's current advertising guidelines".

A Metro spokeswoman told the Washington Examiner a policy banning ads with religious themes took effect two years ago. The Archdiocese did not propose an ad to be featured by WMATA again until the 2017 Christmas ad.

Up until 2015, the archdiocese purchased WMATA space for ads that, according to the lawsuit, "were explicitly religious in character".

"Someone [is] sitting there at transit like Caesar.", Turley said.

As for the Christmas ads, the archdiocese says it hopes the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C., will issue an injunction and order W.M.A.T.A.to accept the ads for this Advent, which begins December 3.

She said the ads were to convey the message that "the archdiocese wishes to encourage our society to help feed, clothe, and care for our most vulnerable neighbors, and to share our blessings, and welcome all who wish to hear the good news".

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