Justice Department Defends Archdiocese of Washington’s Religious Liberty
The Department of Justice recently filed an amicus brief supporting reversal
of the D.C. District Court’s decision denying the Archdiocese of
Washington’s motion for preliminary injunction against Washington
Area Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA).
In November, the Archdiocese of Washington requested to purchase an advertisement on WMATA buses as part of its “Find the Perfect Gift” Christmas charitable campaign. WMATA denied this request, claiming that the advertisement violated WMATA’s policies banning ads that “promote or oppose any religion, religious practice or belief.” WMATA’s sole basis for rejecting the advertisement—which conveys the implicit message that viewers should “seek spiritual gifts,” make charitable donations, attend church services, and pursue “public service opportunities”—was that the advertisement “seeks to promote religion.” WMATA accepts advertisements that contain non-religious Christmas messages from charitable and commercial viewpoints.
In the amicus brief, the department asserts that WMATA’s rejection of the advertisement constitutes viewpoint discrimination and is a violation of the Archdiocese of Washington’s First Amendment right of free speech.
"As the Supreme Court has made clear, the First Amendment prohibits the government from discriminating against religious viewpoints," said Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand. "By rejecting the Archdiocese’s advertisement while allowing other Christmas advertisements, WMATA engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination."
The Justice Department, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ leadership, has shown a commitment to religious liberty and free speech protections, highlighted by the Government’s amicus brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop and its briefs in support of free speech on college campuses.
Note: The amicus brief can be found here.