A couple of weeks ago, the Archdiocese of Washington sued the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) because they wouldn’t accept a simple ad that said “Find the perfect gift” that encouraged people to give God a try this Christmas. Instead, the Catholic Church was told the ad violated the WMATA’s guidelines.
This wasn’t some anti-Catholic sentiment. For the WMATA, this was the equal application of a policy prohibiting all “issue-oriented advertising” from buses and trains. The policy was adopted to prevent an anti-Muslim hate group from putting ads up, but it’s gone way too far in blocking otherwise acceptable ads from atheists, Catholics, non-profit groups, and others. (In August, the WMATA was sued by a coalition of people that included the ACLU, PETA, an abortion clinic, and conservative troll Milo Yiannopoulos.)
The odd thing is that the ad would’ve been acceptable if the Church was selling, say, a plastic cross because that would’ve been seen as marketing. But by just urging people to try religion, it was seen as advocacy, and therefore a violation of the rules. The Archdiocese said in the lawsuit that the policy has “established a regime that is hostile to religion.”
Unfortunately, a federal judge doesn’t agree with that assessment. The judge, on Friday, denied the request by the Archdiocese to get its ad on the buses.
“We are disappointed that the federal court denied our emergency request for an injunction to run our ‘Find the Perfect Gift’ Advent ad campaign,” said Ed McFadden, secretary of communications for the Archdiocese of Washington. “While this preliminary ruling that there should be no room made for us on WMATA buses is disappointing, we will continue in the coming days to pursue and defend our right to share the important message of Christmas in the public square.”
The judge wasn’t wrong to side with the WMATA here. They were applying their own rules, without discrimination, to the Church. It would’ve created a whole new set of problems if the Metro allowed the Catholic ad while rejecting ones from other groups.
The problem was, and still remains, the policy itself. There’s no good reason to prohibit advertising from groups that have a particular agenda, whether it’s to get you to buy into the Jesus myth or get you to stop eating animals. It’s entirely possible to say no to hateful speech without closing the door to reasonable ads that have a point of view.
It’s not just bad for business. It’s an irrational policy that goes way too far in trying to achieve a goal of not offending anybody.
(Portions of this article were published earlier. Thanks to Danny for the link)