A federal judge ruled against the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, saying the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has the legal right to block a previously proposed Christmas advertisement.
The decision came after the Archdiocese of Washington filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Transit Authority two weeks ago for denying their advertisement which would be run on DC buses.
The ad featured three silhouetted shepherds under a shining star, along with text that invited interested persons to visit their website, where they can learn about the Catholic traditions behind Christmas, view Mass times, and donate to charities.
In court, lawyers for the D.C. Metro argued that Christmas is a holiday containing both secular and religious components, and can be divided individually as such.
“Advertisements involving secular symbols of the holiday – reindeer, the Yule log, the Christmas trees … address the secular half of Christmas. Overtly religious ads, like those featuring religious imagery like a scene of shepherds and the Star of Bethlehem … address the religious half of Christmas. Here, WMATA has simply prohibited advertisements related to the subject of the religious half of Christmas, but not the secular half. That is not viewpoint discrimination.”
The Archdiocese argued that the D.C. Metro was dealing with religious advertisements inconsistently, given that they previously allowed promotional posters for the Salvation Army and yoga studios (both affiliated with religion or religious practices), and that the image constituted an expression of free speech.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson thought differently, upholding the ban against the Archdiocese, who wrote in her ruling that:
“Given WMATA’s concerns about the risks posed by issue-oriented ads, including ads promoting or opposing religion, its decision was reasonable. The regulation is reasonably aligned with WMATA’s duty to provide safe, reliable transportation … and it does not violate the First Amendment.”
In response to the ruling Secretary for Communications for the Archdiocese Ed McFadden said church officials were disappointed by the outcome.
“While this preliminary ruling that there should be no room made for us on WMATA buses is disappointing, we will continue in the coming days to pursue and defend our right to share the important message of Christmas in the public square.”
Last Monday, the Archdiocese filed an appeal in U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia intending to challenge Judge Jackson’s ruling.