(CNSNews.com) - U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, issued an opinion on Saturday permitting the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to ban an advertisement by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., while allowing one by the Salvation Army, which, like the archdiocese, is also a Christian organization.
The ad that the Catholic archdiocese proposed running on the back of Metro buses featured only four words: “Find the Perfect Gift.” But it also included silhouetted images of three shepherds, two sheep, and a number of stars—including one particularly bright star. The Catholic ad also featured a web address (FindThePerfectGift.org) and a hashtag (#perfectgift).
This is the ad from the Archdiocese of Washington that Metro refused to run on buses:
It included an image of a red Salvation Army donation bucket on one side and the face of a man on the other. Between these two images were the following words: "Give Hope/Change Lives/He could have been sleeping on a street this winter./Thanks to you, he’s safe and warm. Your donations MAKE CHANGE HAPPEN./GIVE TO THE SALVATION ARMY and give your neighbors food, shelter, and a second chance.”
Below that message it made a plea, and, like the Catholic ad included a web address and a hashtag. It said: “DONATE NOW. SALVATIONARMYNCA.ORG/#REDKETTLEREASON.”
This is the ad from the Salvation Army that Metro did run on buses:
The web address included in the Salvation Army advertisement that the Washington Metro accepted was for the National Capital Area Command of Salvation Army. At that website, the Salvation Army has posted its mission statement.
That statement—on the website advertised on Metro buses—says: “The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the Universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”
Here is the expressly Christian mission statement found on the website the Salvation Army advertised on Metro buses:
WMATA, which accepted and ran on its buses the Salvation Army ad, refused to run the “Find the Perfect Gift” ad from the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.
WMATA said it would not run the Catholic ad because the ad was prohibited by the agency’s “Guideline 12.”
Guideline 12, which WMATA adopted in November 2015, states: “Advertisements that promote or oppose any religion, religious practice or belief are prohibited.”
The Archdiocese of Washington sued WMATA last month in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It argued that its rights to freedom speech, the free exercise of religion, due process and equal protection were being violated. The archdiocese asked for immediate injunctive relief so that its ad could run during the current Advent season leading up to Christmas.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson, whom Obama nominated to the court in 2011, ruled that there was no reason to believe WMATA had violated any of the rights of the Catholic Church—even the right to equal protection of the law, given that Metro ran the Salvation Army’s ad but not the Catholic ad.
The judge argued that the Salvation Army’s ad did not “promote or advance religion” while the Catholic ad did.
“While the Salvation Army is a Christian organization, and its charitable efforts, like those of the Archdiocese and other religious organizations, may be motivated in some measure by religious beliefs, the ads it chose to display on the buses do not promote or advance religion.
“Therefore,” the judge concluded, “WMATA’s policy is not likely to be found to violate the First Amendment or the Equal Protection Clause on the grounds that it has been inconsistenly applied.”
In a footnote to her opinion, Judge Jackson argued that even though there were few words on the Catholic ad, the images of shepherds and a star “telegraphs a religious message”—thus, in her view, making it unacceptable, as per Metro’s policy, for posting on a Metro bus in Washington, D.C.
“But,” Judge Jackson wrote, “plaintiff also acknowledged that the images of the shepherd and the star of Bethlehem are part of the iconography traditionally used to depict the night Christ was born, and that the ad, notwithstanding its simplicity, telegraphs a religious message even before one takes the website into consideration.”