Archdiocese Sues D.C. Bus Transit Over Christmas Ad -- 'Clear Violation of Free Speech'

By Michael W. Chapman | November 28, 2017 | 12:24 PM EST

( -- The Catholic archdiocese of Washington, D.C. filed a lawsuit in federal court today challenging the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's (WMATA) advertising guidelines because the group rejected a Christmas season ad that reads, "Find the Perfect Gift," and which shows several shepherds in sihouette.

Proposed bus ad from the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

In full, the ad states, "Find the perfect gift," and includes the url and #PerfectGift.  There are three shepherds and two sheep in silhouette, and a few stars in the background. 

"The rejected ad conveys a simple message of hope, and an invitation to participate in the Christmas season. Yet citing its guidelines, WMATA’s legal counsel said the ad ‘depicts a religious scene and thus seeks to promote religion,'" said Ed McFadden, the communications secretary for the Archdiocese of Washington.

“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," said McFadden. "But if Christmas means a little bit more, WMATA plays Grinch.”

Kim Fiorentino, general counsel for the archdiocese, said,  “We believe rejection of this ad to be a clear violation of fundamental free speech and a limitation on the exercise of our faith.

Paul Clement, an attorney with Kirkland & Ellis LLP, who is representing the archdiocese in this case, said, “As the papers filed in Court today make clear, WMATA’s rejection of the archdiocese’s speech amounts to a violation of the First Amendment, plain and simple. 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."

D.C. metrobus.  (YouTube) 

Susan Timoney, secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the archdiocese, said,  “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. 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."

In the Archdiocese of Washington there are 620,000 Catholics, 139 parishes, and 93 Catholic schools. 

Michael W. Chapman
Michael W. Chapman
Michael W. Chapman

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