The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defended a Christian conservative organization’s free speech rights on Tuesday, after the group was denied requests to advertise on Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) buses.
The ACLU and its Washington D.C. chapter filed a legal complaint on behalf of WallBuilders, a group which is devoted to educating the public on the role the Founders’ faith played in America’s beginning. The Christian organization sought to put up banners on the sides of WMATA buses, but were denied because they allegedly violated advertising restrictions.
WMATA, a government entity, cited rules prohibiting advertisements “intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions,” and those that “promote or oppose any religion.”
The group’s proposed advertisements included a famous depiction of George Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge with the text, “Christian?” in large font and a link to the WallBuilders website inviting viewers to “find out about the faith of our founders.”
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Alternate ad proposals removed religious references and simply provided viewers with a link to the group’s website, but all proposals were rejected, the lawsuit says.
The ACLU, along with Texas-based law firm First Liberty, claimed WMATA’s guidelines not only violate the First Amendment, but have also been selectively applied.
The lawsuit describes a number of times WMATA buses ran religious ads, such as for the satirical musical “The Book of Mormon” in 2017, and more recently, for Catholic University of America and a Jewish film and music festival in 2023. WMATA also ran advertisements for the D.C.-area “Social Justice School” this year, which the suit says violates their guidelines on promoting controversial issues.
“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,” Arthur Spitzer, Senior Counsel at the ACLU-D.C said in a press release.
“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,” he added.
First Liberty attorney Jeremy Dys remarked, “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.”
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Fox News Digital reached out to WMATA for comment.
The ACLU previously challenged the Washington Metro’s advertisement restrictions in 2017, on behalf of an abortion pill company, controversial commentator Milo Yiannopoulos; and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, “PETA”.
Known for aligning with liberal organizations, the civil liberties advocate has supported conservative figures and groups at times in the name of free speech.
In October, the group announced it would back former President Donald Trump against a D.C. judge’s gag order in his election interference case.
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