The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) in the nation’s capital rejected an ad campaign by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington because it touched too close to the true meaning of Christmas.
As seen above, the ad featured shepherds looking into a starry night and would urge riders to “Find the Perfect Gift” by visiting the website, FindThePerfectGift.org. If they were to actually visit the site, they would be told, “Jesus is the perfect gift” and there would be ways to connect to local parishes. The ad itself is very benign but it was ultimately rejected by WMATA because it was “non-commercial advertising” and “depicts a religious scene and thus seeks to promote religion.”
Now, the archdiocese is suing the WMATA for suppressing free speech. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said:
“WMATA’s decision to suppress free speech and ban the depiction of a religious scene is saddening and troubling. WMATA approves the commercialization of Christmas by showing ads depicting gifts and material goods, but unfortunately the portrayal of the reason we celebrate this time of year — the birth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ — is a guideline violation.
“This egregious action should be reversed and I applaud Cardinal Donald Wuerl and the Archdiocese of Washington for courageously addressing this issue. I pray that those with authority over WMATA guidelines will see reason and allow a simple, peaceful and joyful religious image to be displayed. Religious freedom must be upheld!”
What the archdiocese finds so confusing is that they’ve advertised with the D.C. Metro before, in 2015, when it ran a “The Light Is On for You” campaign during the Lent season. It was later that year that WMATA tightened its advertising policies.
Ed McFadden, the secretary for communications for the archdiocese, said, “The rejected ad conveys a simple message of hope, and an invitation to participate in the Christmas season.”
He added, “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.”
The new policy against issue-oriented ads on the metro lines has landed WMATA several lawsuits, including the ACLU which is suing over the rejection of ads for the American Civil Liberties Union, Milo Yiannopoulos’s book Dangerous, and others.