Christmas ad depicting shepherds at night rejected by DC Metro since it ‘seeks to promote religion’

Christmas ad depicting shepherds at night rejected by DC Metro since it ‘seeks to promote religion’
A Christmas ad depicting shepherds at night (pictured) from the Archdiocese of Washington was rejected by the city's metro line because it "seeks to promote religion." The diocese is filing a federal lawsuit in response. (Image source: Archdiocese of Washington)

The Archdiocese of Washington filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday after the D.C. Metropolitan Area Transit Authority rejected a diocese Christmas ad depicting shepherds and sheep under a starry night sky, the diocese said in a news release.

The reason for the ad rejection?

It “depicts a religious scene and thus seeks to promote religion,” the diocese said, citing D.C. Metro’s legal counsel.

What’s the purpose of the ad?

  • “Our ad was designed to be placed on metro bus exteriors to reach the broadest audience and to invite everyone to experience the well-accepted joyful spirit of the season, or to share their many blessings with others less fortunate through service opportunities,” Susan Timoney, secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns for the archdiocese, said. “The Archdiocese wishes to encourage our society to help feed, clothe, and care for our most vulnerable neighbors, and to share our blessings, and welcome all who wish to hear the Good News.”

What is the D.C. Metro saying?

  • A Metro spokeswoman told the Washington Examiner a policy banning ads with religious themes took effect two years ago.
  • “In 2015, WMATA changed its advertising policy to prohibit issue-oriented advertising, including political, religious and advocacy advertising,” Sherri Ly, manager of media relations, told the paper. “The ad in question was declined because it is prohibited by WMATA’s current advertising guidelines.”

What else is the diocese saying?

  • “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,” Ed McFadden, communications secretary for the archdiocese, said. “But if Christmas means a little bit more, WMATA plays Grinch.”
  • “We believe rejection of this ad to be a clear violation of fundamental free speech and a limitation on the exercise of our faith,” Kim Fiorentino, chancellor and general counsel for the archdiocese added. “We look forward to presenting our case to affirm the right of all to express such viewpoints in the public square.”
  • Paul Clement of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, counsel to the Archdiocese, said the metro’s “rejection of the Archdiocese’s speech amounts to a violation of the First Amendment, plain and simple.”

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