A Presbyterian minister in Washington D.C. has launched a campaign called "Christmas Spirit Rides" in protest of a policy that prohibits the display of religious advertisements on the city's buses.
Last week, the Archdiocese of Washington sued the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for rejecting a Christmas-season advertisement on the grounds that it promoted religion.
The advertisement in question did not contain religious wording, but it featured a silhouette of the three Magi and the text, "Find The Perfect Gift." The poster 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.
Rev. Patrick Mahoney, the lead pastor of Church on the Hill D.C., said that WMATA's ban on the advertisement is a "troubling crushing" of the First Amendment.
He said he and his followers plan to pass out copies of the rejected advertisement to metro and metro bus riders in the next few weeks if WMATA does not reverse the policy.
Mahoney commended the Catholic Church for launching the advertisement campaign and he expressed support for the archdiocese's effort to pursue legal action against the transit authority.
"When I saw this, I knew that the evangelical community could not be silent on this matter, that we had to make a strong public witness," the pastor told Life Site News.
"We are also embracing the opportunity to share the beautiful ... timeless message of Our Lord's birth at Christmas. In an odd way, it's kind of fascinating how God works. This 'Perfect Gift' campaign has gotten hundreds of thousands of dollars in free advertising already," he added.
Mahoney, who is known for his creative "public witness" events, organizes a live nativity in front of the U.S. Supreme Court each year. He contended that if he can publicly display a nativity outside the court, others should also be able to "freely and openly share the message of Christmas."
The archdiocese has contended that the rejected advertisement "conveys a simple message of hope, and an invitation to participate in the Christmas season," and it has been specifically designed to avoid any red flags.
WMATA spokesperson Sherri Ly said that the poster would have been accepted before 2015, when the transit authority implemented the new guidelines prohibiting "issue-oriented advertising, including political, religious and advocacy advertising."
The policy also bans advertisements that are "intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions."
This was not the first time the WMATA has rejected an advertisement from the archdiocese. In 2015, the transit authority refused to run an advertisement for the 2015 Papal visit to D.C. because the poster featured a cross, which was reportedly part of the Maryland state flag.