The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for D.C. ruled against a Christmas ad Tuesday that the Archdiocese of Washington wanted to run on the Metro.
The Washington Times reports the court ruled that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority can prohibit religious and political ads, as long as it does so consistently.
In 2015, the Metro adopted a policy that prohibits political, religious or advocacy ads on its transportation system. Then, in 2017, it rejected the archdiocese’s Christmas ad, arguing the ad violated its policy.
The ad showed the silhouette of three shepherds and sheep facing a bright star, the words “Find the Perfect Gift” and a website promoting the Catholic Church.
Responding to the decision Tuesday, Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow with The Catholic Association, said the circuit court’s ruling allows discrimination against religious speech.
“The Court’s claim that Metro ‘does not take sides’ regarding religious speech is laughable,” McGuire said. “To the contrary Metro, which is funded and run by the federal government, has taken the side of restricting any and all religious speech, a clear violation of the First Amendment.”
She said the policy welcomes secular speech but treats religious speech as if it was “offensive.”
Here’s more from the report:
The Archdiocese of Washington sued, claiming a First Amendment right to run the ads.
A lower court rejected the claim and the appeals court agreed, saying WMATA’s advertising space isn’t a public forum, so messages can be restricted based on content, as long as the policy is applied fairly to all advertising.
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“City buses, by contrast, enjoy no historical tradition like parks and sidewalks because transit was a private enterprise in most American cities until the second half of the twentieth century,” Judge Judith Rogers, a Clinton appointee, wrote in the opinion for the court.
Judge Robert Wilkins, an Obama appointee, concurred in the judgment, saying the Constitution permits the government control over expressive content in limited circumstances.
U.S. Circuit Judge Robert Wilkins agreed, writing, “Both record evidence and common sense show a ‘sensible basis’ for [the transit authority’s] conclusion that prohibiting religious or anti-religious advocacy advertisements avoids risks of vandalism, violence, passenger discomfort, and administrative burdens in a manner that serves the forum’s stated purpose of providing ‘safe, equitable, and reliable transportation services.’”
However, Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, legal advisor for The Catholic Association Foundation, called the ruling “dangerous” because of the limits it places on religious expression.
“A two-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit court of appeals has endorsed a new and dangerous idea that freedom of religion does not extend beyond the parish parking lot,” she said. “Accepting commercial ads during the holiday season but barring those calling for increased charity toward our neighbors and closeness to God is pure discrimination against religion. We pray for a swift correction by the full court of appeals or the Supreme Court of this clearly erroneous decision.”