ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Washington, D.C. Metro After Rejecting Christian Advertisement

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and First Liberty Institute have filed a lawsuit against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) after it rejected a Christian group’s bus advertisement.

The legal groups claim that WMATA violated the First Amendment.

WallBuilders, the Christian organization, “sought to advertise on the side of WMATA Metrobuses to promote its religious and educational mission, which is to inform the public about the role that the Founders’ religious faith played in the creation of the nation and the drafting of the Constitution,” the lawsuit reads.

“WMATA rejected the ads because they related to issues on which there are varying public opinions. Though WMATA never identified the specific issue of public controversy that it believed the proposed advertisements addressed, it is apparent that WallBuilders was prohibited from advertising because its proposed ads sought to address issues of public importance from a religious viewpoint.”

The WMATA rejected several different proposed advertisements, according to the lawsuit, including:

1) a depiction of the well-known Henry Brueckner image of George Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge with the simple question “CHRISTIAN?” superimposed in large font and an invitation (in smaller font) to visit “TO FIND OUT ABOUT THE FAITH OF OUR FOUNDERS”

2) an alternate version that merely included the website address (without the question or the reference to “Faith of Our Founders”)

3) a similar advertisement that depicted a well-known painting of the signing the U.S. Constitution, with an identical tagline, “CHRISTIAN? TO FIND OUT ABOUT THE FAITH OF OUR FOUNDERS, VISIT WALLBUILDERS.COM”

4) the identical image of the signing of the Constitution, this time without the question or the reference to “Faith of Our Founders,” instead merely directing the viewers to WallBuilders’ website.

The legal groups asserted that the “ban on religious advertising also infringes WallBuilders’ right to speak on otherwise permissible topics because of the religious viewpoint WallBuilders seeks to express in its advertisements.”

Arthur Spitzer, Senior Counsel at the ACLU-D.C., said in a statement, “The case against WMATA is a critical reminder of what’s at stake when government entities exercise selective censorship. The First Amendment doesn’t play favorites; it ensures that all voices, regardless of their message, have the right to be heard. ACLU defends these suits, regardless of whether it agrees with the underlying message because it believes in the speaker’s right to express it. The government cannot arbitrarily decide which voices to silence in public forums.”

First Liberty Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys similarly said, “The First Amendment grants all Americans the right to express their point of view, religious or secular. Rejecting a faith-based advertising banner by labeling it an ‘issue ad,’ while accepting other ads such as those promoting a ‘Social Justice School,’ ‘Earth Day,’ and the highly controversial idea of terms limits for Supreme Court Justices, is clearly hypocritical, discriminatory, and illegal. WMATA must support the freedoms provided in the First Amendment rather than silence Americans through censorship.”