Washington Archdiocese Sues D.C. Metro Following ‘Grinch’ Rejection of Christmas Charity Ad

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 27: A WMATA Metro Red Line Metro train pulls into Metro Center in Washington on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty

 The Archdiocese of Washington has filed a lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday challenging the Washington Metropolitan Area Trans Authority’s (WMATA) ad policy after it rejected an ad campaign the transportation agency found to be too religious.

The “Find the Perfect Gift” initiative, according to the archdiocese website, encourages visitors to attend a Catholic Mass or donate to a Catholic charity.

“The rejected ad conveys a simple message of hope, and an invitation to participate in the Christmas season,” Ed McFadden, Secretary for Communications for the Archdiocese, said in a statement.

“Yet citing its guidelines, WMATA’s legal counsel said the ad ‘depicts a religious scene and thus seeks to promote religion,’” McFadden said.

“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,” McFadden said. “But if Christmas means a little bit more, WMATA plays Grinch.”

The ad shows three shepherds with their lambs and a bright star in the sky. No religious text is in the ad, which directs people to the website, findtheperfectgift.org and has a hashtag #PerfectGift.

“We believe rejection of this ad to be a clear violation of fundamental free speech and a limitation on the exercise of our faith,” Kim Fiorentino, the Archdiocese of Washington’s Chancellor and General Counsel, 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.”

“As the papers filed in Court today make clear, WMATA’s rejection of the Archdiocese’s speech amounts to a violation of the First Amendment, plain and simple,” said Paul Clement, of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, who is serving as counsel to the Archdiocese in the case.

“We are bringing this complaint to vindicate the basic principle that the government may not allow a wide variety of speech in a forum and then turn around and deny the Archdiocese access because of the religious nature of its speech,” said Clement, a former solicitor general under George W. Bush and Supreme Court counsel for the state attorneys general.

The Washington Post reported that the Metro board made changes to the agency’s advertising policy in 2015, banning any ads related to religion or politics.

And this isn’t the only lawsuit the agency is facing, according to the Post:

In the past year, Metro has been sued by the American Civil Liberties Union, an abortion provider, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, controversial author Milo Yiannopoulos and an Egyptian human rights advocate — all because their respective ads were rejected under the 2015 policy.

The case is Archdiocese of Washington v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Authority, No. 1:17-cv-2554 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.


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