The U.S. Department of Justice filed a “friend of the court” brief Jan. 16 siding with the Archdiocese of Washington in its challenge to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) prohibition on advertisements for the archdiocese’s annual “Find the Perfect Gift” initiative.

The brief, filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, supports reversing a D.C. District Court’s decision denying the archdiocese’s motion for preliminary injunction against Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA).

“As the Supreme Court has made clear, the First Amendment prohibits the government from discriminating against religious viewpoints,” Associate Attorney General Rachel L. Brand said in a statement. “By rejecting the archdiocese’s advertisement while allowing other Christmas advertisements, WMATA engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”

The Archdiocese of Washington is challenging WMATA’s advertising guidelines and seeking injunctive relief after WMATA rejected an advertisement promoting the archdiocese’s annual “Find the Perfect Gift” initiative.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected the archdiocese’s challenge, and the archdiocese appealed the decision. Oral arguments before the Court of Appeals are slated to be heard later next month.

“We are pleased that the U.S. Department of Justice is defending the constitutionally protected right of speech, expression and the practice of one’s faith in the public square,” said Ed McFadden, the archdiocesan secretary of communications.  

“The Archdiocese of Washington went into this legal challenge understanding that it will be a long legal road,” he added. “While the specifics of this case focus on our Advent campaign, we also advertise our Lenten campaign, ‘The Light is ON,’ and other offices in the archdiocese – from schools to Catholic Charities – also have programs and advertising campaigns.  So this challenge isn’t simply about Christmas; it’s about Metro’s selective, discriminatory advertising policies that limit the Catholic Church’s ability to share the Good News broadly.”