A ban on adverts from religious groups on public transport in DC has been upheld

Last Tuesday, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) had the right to ban advertisements on buses and trains from religious organisations, even if the adverts themselves are not overtly religious.

The suit was initiated last Christmas, when the WMATA refused to run an ad from the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, DC. It depicted a group of shepherds on a hill with the caption “Find the perfect gift”. Viewers were invited to visit FindThePerfectGift.com, which listed (among other things) Mass times and instructions on how to make Advent wreaths.

At the time, Ed McFadden – the Archdiocese’s Secretary for Communications – wrote an article for RealClearReligion explaining that: “During my discussions with the ad sales folks at WMATA they indicated that if there was a way we could make the ads more ‘commercial’ they might be able to run them. By ‘commercial’ they meant selling something, say if the Catholic Church were selling tickets to a concert or a Mass. But the Church doesn’t do that, so there wasn’t really a way to change the ad.”

It should be mentioned that the Archdiocese isn’t the only organisation to have its non-commercial ads banned. The WMATA has also been sued on the same grounds by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) and an abortion provider, among others, according to The Washington Post. But, as the Archdiocese argued, secular organisations were allowed to run Christmas-themed ads encouraging charitable giving.

Judge Judith W Rogers said that the Archdiocese’s ads were “evocative not of the desirability of charitable giving, but rather the saving grace of Christ,” adding that “had the Archdiocese wished to submit an ad encouraging charitable giving nothing in the record suggests it could not do so.” Yet ads for charitable giving are not commercial. The WMATA, which is a government agency, appears to have no issue making exceptions to their own rules.

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