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Archdiocese Sues DC Metro For Refusing To Run Christmas Ads

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter

The Archdiocese of Washington sued the DC metro Tuesday for refusing to run its Christmas-themed bus ads on the grounds the ads are too religious.

The ads featured a silhouette of the the three Magi and displayed the text “Find The Perfect Gift,” the Archdiocese said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority told representatives of the diocese the ads were too religious in nature, but would likely be accepted if they were changed to promote sales.

Archdiocese of Washington Christmas Ad (credit: The Archdiocese of Washington)

Archdiocese of Washington Christmas Ad (credit: The Archdiocese of Washington)

The Archdiocese filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority over the ads, which are promoting the church’s “Find The Perfect Gift” initiative.

“We’re entering into a season where people open their hearts,” Chieko Noguchi, an Archdiocese spokesman, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It’s a giving season, both spiritually and materially. Our Find The Perfect Gift initiative seeks to remind people of the well accepted, joyful spirit of the season. It’s meant to remind people why we have Christmas in the first place.”

The Archdiocese has taken out ads for metro buses for a decade, most notably for their Lent initiative “The Light is ON for You,” which encouraged people to stop by a Catholic church on Wednesday evenings to go to confession or for prayer and reflection. WMATA changed its ad guidelines in 2015, however, to prohibit “issue-oriented advertising, including political, religious and advocacy advertising,” according to WTOP.

Metro spokeswoman Sherry Ly told WTOP that WMATA rejected the archdiocese’s Christmas ad because they violated that new policy. The Find The Perfect Gift website advertised on the proposed displays shows church teachings, Mass schedules, and upcoming charity events, and features the test “Jesus is the perfect gift,” on its homepage.

Since 2015, the Archdiocese and WMATA have clashed over the advertising guidelines. Noguchi told TheDCNF that WMATA also rejected the Archdiocese’s adds for the 2015 Papal visit to DC because the adds featured a cross. The cross in question was part of the Maryland state flag. The Archdiocese did not propose an ad to be featured by WMATA again until the 2017 Christmas ad.

The Archdiocese calls WMATA’s ad guidelines discriminatory in the lawsuit, and asks a judge to overrule them and order WMATA to cover the legal costs incurred by the Archdiocese from the lawsuit. The Archdiocese argues that WMATA’s advertising policy discriminates against all non-commercial speech and therefore violates the First Amendment. The Archdiocese also argues the policy is inconsistent, because WMATA accepted ads for the Salvation Army and Yoga.

Noguchi told TheDCNF that the Archdiocese has displayed adds featuring Bible verses on bus shelters through Clear Channel Outdoor, the company contracted by the DC government to operate bus shelter advertising. The Archdiocese wanted to reach a wider audience and so proposed a different add to be featured on Metro buses. Despite the proposed ad’s lack of scripture, Outfront Media, Inc., the company that contracts with WMATA to market advertising space, rejected the ad.

Jack Costello, a representative of Outfront Media, told Archdiocese spokesman Ed McFadden over the phone that if the ad “had a commercial purpose, such as selling goods or services, then the advertisement would be more likely to comply with WMATA’s guidelines.”

Mcfadden explained that giving the ad a commercial theme and still retaining the intended message would be impossible.

Noguchi told TheDCNF other advertisers have deemed WMATA’s new advertising guidelines sufficiently vague that even the ACLU filed a lawsuit against WMATA for rejecting ads for PETA, Milo Yiannopoulous’ book “Dangerous,” and the “10-Week-After” abortion pill.

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