Washington Archdiocese takes transit system to court over ad guidelines

She said the ads were to convey the message that “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.”

The lawsuit notes that because of WMATA’s “discriminatory and arbitrary” enforcement of its policy, “the Archdiocese has suffered and will suffer irreparable harm, including the loss of its constitutional rights.”

“WMATA’s rejection of the archdiocese’s speech amounts to a violation of the First Amendment, plain and simple,” said Paul Clement of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, who is serving as counsel to the archdiocese in the case. “We are bringing this complaint to vindicate the basic principle that the government may not allow a wide variety of speech in a forum and then turn around and deny the archdiocese access because of the religious nature of its speech.”

In a statement, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the neighboring Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, 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,” he added.

He called for the “egregious action” to “be reversed,” and applauded Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl and the archdiocese “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!” he said.

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