by The Daily Signal | 3.27.18
Casey Ryan / December 07, 2017
The Catholic diocese of the District of Columbia has filed legal action against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority after it was unable to run a religious advertisement.
The Archdiocese of Washington was denied access to post an advertisement for its annual “Find the Perfect Gift” campaign, which directs people to a website to help them find a Christmas mass to attend.
“In 2015, WMATA changed its advertising policy to prohibit issue-oriented advertising, including political, religious and advocacy advertising,” said Sherri Ly, media relations manager at WMATA. “The ad in question was declined because it is prohibited by WMATA’s current advertising guidelines.”
The Archdiocese of Washington responded to WMATA’s rules on the same day it filed legal action, Nov. 28.
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“The rejected ad conveys a simple message of hope, and an invitation to participate in the Christmas season,” said Ed McFadden, secretary for communications for the Archdiocese of Washington. “Yet citing its guidelines, WMATA’s legal counsel said the ad ‘depicts a religious scene and thus seeks to promote religion.’”
McFadden said that if Christmas is about gifts, then WMATA will let the advertisement through, but if Christmas involves religion, then WMATA won’t let it through.
In the Archdiocese’s legal complaint, the church states that WMATA is a government-owned agency and its buses are public, so not allowing religious messages to be advertised goes against the Constitution.
The complaint references freedom of speech and free exercise of religion in the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, equal protection, and due process as reasons for why the advertisement should be allowed.
Prohibits any agency, department, or official of the United States or any state (the government) from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except that the government may burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) furthers a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
The complaint asks the federal court to not allow WMATA to block the advertisement and to award the Archdiocese the amount of money owed for its attorney fees and costs.
“We believe rejection of this ad to be a clear violation of fundamental free speech and a limitation on the exercise of our faith,” said Kim Fiorentino, the Archdiocese of Washington’s chancellor and general counsel. “We look forward to presenting our case to affirm the right of all to express such viewpoints in the public square.”
Chieko Noguchi, director of media and public relations for the Archdiocese of Washington, said the church actually advertised with WMATA since 2006 with some of the church’s other campaigns, but that changed when WMATA implemented its new rules in 2015. The American Civil Liberties Union is also suing WMATA because it took down advertisements for conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos’ book after WMATA received complaints from customers earlier this year.
The Catholic Association, an organization that works to defend Catholic values, also chimed in on the controversy.
“The DC metro authority has outscrooged itself,” said Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow at The Catholic Association.
“Christmas is a religious holiday, and the DC Metro is blatantly discriminating against Christians by rejecting the Archdiocese of Washington’s Christmas ad while allowing other Christmas ads that are purely about consumption and secular materialism,” McGuire said. “Are they going to ban every ad that contains the word ‘Christmas’ since it contains a reference to Christ?”
Written by The Daily Signal
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