Sputniknews – 1/12/17
The Catholic Church is suing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which regulates the advertisement on DC’s transportation network, for banning one of its Christmas season ads in the US capital, where less than 50 percent of the population expressly identifies as Christian.
The Archdiocese of Washington, the Catholic Church’s branch in Washington DC, has filed a lawsuit against the regulatory authority, alleging that the ban violated its right to free speech.
WMATA rejected the Catholic request to display one of its ads that was supposed to invite people to participate in the Christmas season and encourage spirituality due to the fact that it supposedly promoted religion, breaching the authority’s guidelines.
The Church, however, contests this finding, pointing to the absence of any religious wording in the ad, which merely included the silhouettes of shepherds placed against the background of a starry night, in homage to Jesus’s birth.
The words on the advertisement invited readers to “Find the Perfect Gift” and providing a link to their website for those who are interested in Catholic traditions.
“Jesus is the perfect gift,” the information on the website says.
“Find the perfect gift of God’s love this Christmas.”
Speaking to Newsweek, WMATA spokeswoman Sherri Ly said that the ad might have been accepted before 2015, when the transport authority chose to prohibit all “issue-orientated advertising, including political, religious and advocacy advertising.”
In its public statement, however, the Catholic Church argued that the ad did not breach the WMATA rules, as it simply “conveys a simple message of hope, and an invitation to participate in the Christmas season.”
The Archdiocese’s Director of Media Relations Chieko Noguchi also told Newsweek that after carefully studying the Metro’s guidelines and specifically, the Church opted to use the ad in question to fit the specific rules.
“Our other ads have a very similar image but contain a quotation from the Book of Luke. This is the simple one, just for Metro,” the spokesperson said.
However, the ad might have been caught by another WMATA rule that broadly proscribes “advertisements intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions.”
Several other supposedly controversial ads were previously banned by the transport system for violating the rule.
These included ads from anti-wildlife trafficking organizations, abortion pill companies, PETA promoting veganism, Birthright Israel, anti-prostitution groups, and Milo Yinnopolous.
It is also not the first time the has found itself in a legal debacle.
Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Metro, seeking to abolish the existing guidelines for being “misguided and impossible to administer fairly.”
The ACLU filed the lawsuit against the transport system for forbidding ads, while promoting Yinnopolous’s book Dangerous due to the writer’s controversial image, sparking an outcry from many of its followers.
The WMATA’s latest clash with the Catholic Church also provoked an intense Twitter reaction.