The Department of Justice on Tuesday filed an amicus brief in support of the Archdiocese of Washington in its lawsuit against the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority for preventing it from displaying its Christmas-themed ad.
The archdiocese sued WMATA in November after it said it would not allow the Christmas-themed ads on the side of Metro buses.
WMATA said at the time that the archdiocese’s “Find the Perfect Gift” Christmas charitable campaign ad — which went along with a biblical Christmas scene — was a violation of a policy set in 2015 that bans ads “that promote or oppose any religion, religious practice or belief.”
The archdiocese filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court days later, arguing the ban violated its First Amendment rights and asking for an injunction ordering WMATA to post the ads.
In early December, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Metro does not have to post the ads.
“The advertisement does not seek to address a general, otherwise permissible topic from a religious perspective — the sole purpose of directing the public to www.findtheperfectgift.org is to promote religion. The website declares: ‘JESUS is the perfect gift. [F]ind the perfect gift of God’s love this Christmas,’” she wrote, adding that she did not believe the archdiocese could succeed in the courts on claims the First Amendment or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The archdiocese filed an emergency motion in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in mid-December to temporarily block the lower court’s ruling to allow the ads to go up before Dec. 25, which was subsequently denied.
The archdiocese “has not come forward with a single example of a retail, commercial or other non-religious advertisement on a [Metro] bus that expresses the view that the holiday season should be celebrated in a secular or non-religious manner,” the three-judge ruling said.
The decision did not dismiss the case against Metro completely, and instead puts it off until mid-February.
The brief filed Tuesday comes as President Trump proclaimed Jan. 16 as “Religious Freedom Day.”
“Faith is embedded in the history, spirit, and soul of our nation. On Religious Freedom Day, we celebrate the many faiths that make up our country,” Trump said. “Our Constitution and laws guarantee Americans the right not just to believe as they see fit, but to freely exercise their religion.”
In October, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a government-wide religious liberty memo with 20 principles.
“To commemorate Religious Freedom Day, the Department of Justice will file an amicus brief today supporting reversal of the D.C. District Court’s decision denying the Archdiocese of Washington’s motion for preliminary injunction against [WMATA]," Sessions said Tuesday, adding, “On this Religious Freedom Day, as we remember this historic statute, we do well to remember the timeless truths it articulates: that religious freedom is an inalienable human right which deserves the protection of the law and that ‘truth is great and will prevail if left to herself.’”