WASHINGTON DC – The Catholic Church is taking Metro to court after their ad campaign encouraging Mass attendance during the holidays was rejected.
The ad consists of a starry sky with shepherds, sheep, and the words: “Find the perfect gift”. The advertisement doesn’t promote an blatantly religious message, but encourages those who view the ad to visit FindthePerfectGift.org, where they can find out more about their nearest parish Mass times, the Catholic understanding of Advent, and Christmas traditions.
The Archdiocese of Washington had originally planned to put the ad on the sides and backs of Metro buses. In another advertisement agreement, the church had purchased advertisement space on bus shelters. The approved Christmas ads for the bus shelter campaign included Bible verses. The campaign was accepted by Clear Channel Outdoor, who operates the advertisements for the bus shelters.
The lawsuit was filed November 28, 2017, and states that actions by Metro regarding advertisement place restrictions on the church’s First Amendment rights, since the ads were rejected on the basis of religious statements.
According to the lawsuit filed by the church, the ad was rejected through the Metro’s lawyer because it “depicts a religious scene and thus seeks to promote religion.” Their suit also asks the court to toss out the Metro ad’s guidelines that discuss religion, as well as cover the church’s legal fees regarding the suit.
In addition to the Archdiocese of Washington, The American Civil Liberties Union has also sued with the goal of dismissing the guidelines set forth by Metro.
Sherri Ly, a Metro spokeswoman, said the current ad policy for Metro has been in place since 2015. “The ad in question was declined because it is prohibited by WMATA’s current advertising guidelines,” she wrote in a statement e-mailed to WTOP, a Washington news site.
In a response, the Archdiocesan lawsuit pointed out the Metro accepted advertisement campaigns for yoga and the Salvation Army since the 2015 ad guidelines were put into place.
The Archdiocese of Washington sees Metro’s actions as an embracing of commercialized Christmas traditions, and a rejection of religious organizations who think Christmas means more than what can be purchased at the mall.
“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. But if Christmas means a little bit more, WMATA plays Grinch,” said Ed McFadden, the Archdiocese of Washington’s communications secretary, in a statement.