The Archdiocese of Washington wanted to extend an invitation to commuters to find the perfect Christmas gift by advertising on city buses, but the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) threw up a roadblock.
The advertisement depicted silhouettes of three shepherds walking at night with tall canes and sheep beneath a shining North Star. Emblazoned across the ad is the phrase: “FIND THE PERFECT GIFT.”
But the transit authority rejected the ad because it “depicts a religious scene and thus seeks to promote religion,” according to a federal lawsuit filed by the Archdiocese of Washington against the WMATA.
“To borrow a 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. “But if Christmas means a little bit more, WMATA plays Grinch.”
The transit authority might have reconsidered its ban on the Catholic Church’s advertisement had they been selling goods and services, the lawsuit alleges. However, as we all know – the perfect Christmas gift cannot be bought. The perfect gift came from a much Higher Authority.
The WMATA declined to comment about the lawsuit.
However, in 2015 the board of directors approved a resolution that temporarily closed the transit authority’s advertising space to “issue-oriented advertising” including all political, advocacy and religious advertising, the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, the temporary ban later became an indefinite ban over concerns that “issue-oriented advertising could provoke community discord, create concern about discriminatory statements, and generate potential threats to safety and security from those who seek to oppose the advertising messages.”
As part of the extended ban, WMATA revised its advertising guidelines to prohibit “advertisements that promote or oppose any religion, religious practice or belief,” the Archdiocese alleges.
“We believe rejection of this ad to be a clear violation of fundamental free speech and a limitation on the exercise of our faith,” general counsel Kim Fiorentino said in a statement. “We look forward to presenting our case to affirm the right of all to express such viewpoints in the public square.”
And while the Archdiocese of Washington may not be welcome to advertise on public buses, the transit authority is more than happy to promote other enterprises – like gay hookup websites.
In 2016 the transit authority defended its decision to allow Squirt.org to advertise citing First Amendment rights, CNS News reported.
In other words, the transit authority’s decision to banish the Archdiocese is not nice – and definitely naughty.