The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington announced over the weekend that they will be appealing a D.C. judge’s decision siding with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) in the Archdiocese’s November lawsuit over WMATA rejecting their Christmas-themed advertisement.
The advertisement was for an initiative urging the public to consider the spiritual side of the Christmas season by learning about Advent and other Catholic Christmas traditions. It depicts shepherds under a starry night and the simple slogan “Find the Perfect Gift.”
WMATA said on November 20th that the ad violated their policy prohibiting “all non-commercial advertising, including any speech that purportedly promotes a religion, religious practice, or belief,” because “it depicts a religious scene and thus seeks to promote religion,” according to the Archdiocese’s initial complaint, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief in D.C. Court.
The Archdiocese is arguing that WMATA’s ban interferes with their First Amendment rights, but D.C. Judge Amy Berman Jackson approved of the policy Friday, reasoning that inflammatory issue-oriented ads could incite violence.
“Given [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s] concerns about the risks posed by issue-oriented ads, including ads promoting or opposing religion, its decision was reasonable,” Jackson said in her ruling. “The regulation is reasonably aligned with WMATA’s duty to provide safe, reliable transportation ... and it does not violate the First Amendment.”
The Archdiocese announced that they have appealed the decision to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Sunday.
The Archdiocese’s Secretary for Communications Ed McFadden referenced ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ in his comment on the decision.
“In ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ he asks, ‘Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?’ Linus responds, ‘Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.’ That is what the archdiocese wants to do with the www.FindthePerfectGift.org ad campaign,” McFadden said. “In a society concerned more with what’s under the tree, and where the birth of Jesus is treated as an intrusive element to the season, we simply want to share the real Christmas story, the full joy of Christmas, with our neighbors and share the Christmas spirit with those in need.”
WMATA’s policy on issue-oriented ads has already prompted other lawsuits including a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union filed in August over their refusal to run ads for the ACLU, an abortion clinic, Milo Yiannopoulos’s book, and PETA.