In a statement, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the neighboring Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, said WMATA's decision "to suppress free speech and ban the depiction of a religious scene is saddening and troubling".
"The ad in question was declined because it is prohibited by WMATA's current advertising guidelines", the agency said in a statement.
"We're entering into a season where people open their hearts", Chieko Noguchi, an Archdiocese spokesman, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The ad depicts shepherds walking up a mountain and prompts Metro and bus riders to visit findtheperfectgift.org, an annual initiative that directs locals to visit the church during the Christmas season.
Since 2015, the Archdiocese and WMATA have clashed over the advertising guidelines. "In terms of visibility, reach, and frequency, no other media type provides a substitute for bus advertising in the metropolitan area, especially with regard to the audience the Archdiocese most wants to reach with the "Find the Perfect Gift" campaign". Launched to commemorate World AIDS Day, the ads read, "Because the bishops ban condoms, innocent people die", and they urged readers to "Join the Global Campaign to End the Bishops' Ban on Condoms".
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The Catholic Church responded by stating this order violates the First Amendment.. The Archdiocese also argues the policy is inconsistent, because WMATA accepted ads for the Salvation Army and Yoga. "This campaign, 'The Light Is on for You, ' was remarkably successful for the archdiocese - and lucrative for WMATA - with advertisements on the backs of 85 buses throughout the metropolitan area".
Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Metro, seeking to abolish the existing guidelines for being "misguided and impossible to administer fairly". "Yet citing its guidelines, WMATA's legal counsel said the ad 'depicts a religious scene and thus seeks to promote religion'".
The ads were rejected by Metro for being religious in nature.
Mcfadden explained that giving the ad a commercial theme and still retaining the intended message would be impossible.
According to a press release from the A.C.L.U., "parts of the agency's ad policies violate the First Amendment by discriminating against particular ads and advertisers deemed controversial by WMATA officials".