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Catholic Church sues D.C. transit authority for rejecting Christmas ad

(Wikimedia Commons/Tony Webster)A WMATA 38B/Ballston Metrobus bus in Washington, D.C. is featured in this image.

The Archdiocese of Washington is taking legal action against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for rejecting a Christmas advertisement that seeks to encourage spirituality this holiday season.

According to Newsweek, the WMATA refused to run the advertisement on the grounds that it promoted religion, although no religious wording was included in the poster.

In the complaint, the archdiocese is asking an injunctive relief that will allow them to run the advertisement that features a silhouette of the three Magi and the text, "Find The Perfect Gift."

The advertisement points to a website that lists Mass times, Advent and Christmas traditions, as well as ways to give gifts to the poor through Catholic Charities.

The archdiocese contended that the poster "conveys a simple message of hope, and an invitation to participate in the Christmas season," adding that it has been specifically tailored to avoid any red flags.

"Our other ads have a very similar image but contain a quotation from the Book of Luke. This is the simple one, just for Metro," Chieko Noguchi, the director of media relations, told Newsweek.

The archdiocese further argued that the transit system's policy against religious or controversial speech is a violation of the First Amendment. The Metro's guidelines prohibit "issue-oriented advertising, including political, religious and advocacy advertising," as well as "advertisements intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions."

"We believe rejection of this ad to be a clear violation of fundamental free speech and a limitation on the exercise of our faith," said Kim Fiorentino, the Archdiocese's chancellor and general counsel.

WMATA spokesperson Sherri Ly said that the archdiocese advertisement would have been accepted before 2015 when the system implemented the new policy.

The Metro has rejected advertisements before, including those form anti-wildlife trafficking organizations, Birthright Israel, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), anti-prostitution groups and controversial political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had sought to overturn the Metro's policy after it took down posters for Yiannopoulos' book "Dangerous" following complaints from riders.

"It's an indefensible policy to say that as soon as someone complains about an advertisement, we're going to take it down," ACLU's D.C. legal director, Arthur Spitzer, said back in August.

The ACLU is also suing WMATA for refusing to run the legal group's advertisement showing the text of the First Amendment in English, Arabic and Spanish.

The social media account called "Unsuck DC Metro," which highlights the daily struggles of commuters on the metro, has pointed out that the WMATA ends up racking up legal fees to defend its advertising policy.

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