Wednesday, August 01, 2018

DC Circuit Upholds Bus Ad Restrictions On Religious Subject Matter

In Archdiocese of Washington v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, (DC Cir., July 31, 2018), the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in 44-pages of opinions, rejected challenges to the WMATA's guidelines which preclude the sale of advertising space on public buses for issue-oriented advertising, including political, religious and advocacy ads.  The ban includes ads "that promote or oppose any religion, religious practice or belief."  The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington wished to purchase space on the exterior of buses for its Christmas season "Find the Perfect Gift" ad.  Finding that advertising space on buses is a non-public forum, the court said in part:
the government has wide latitude to restrict subject matters — including those of great First Amendment salience ... — in a nonpublic forum as long as it maintains viewpoint neutrality and acts reasonably....
The Archdiocese’s position would eliminate the government’s prerogative to exclude religion as a subject matter in any non-public forum. It contends Supreme Court precedent prohibits governments from banning religion as a subject matter.... Not only is this position contrary to the Supreme Court’s recognition that governments retain the prerogative to exclude religion as a subject matter, see Rosenberger, 515 U.S. at 831, it would also undermine the forum doctrine because the Archdiocese offers no principled reason for excepting religion from the general proposition that governments may exclude subjects in their non-public forums....
The Archdiocese contends also that ... Guideline 12 is unconstitutional because, like the restrictions challenged in RosenbergerLamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School Dist., 508 U.S. 384 (1993), and Good News Club v. Milford Central School, 533 U.S. 98 (2001), it suppresses the Archdiocese’s religious viewpoint on subjects that are otherwise includable in the forum. But far from being an abrogation of the distinction between permissible subject matter rules and impermissible viewpoint discrimination, each of these cases represents an application of the Supreme Court’s viewpoint discrimination analysis, of which Guideline 12 does not run afoul. In each, the Court held that the government had engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination because the challenged regulation operated to exclude religious viewpoints on otherwise includable topics. An examination of each case demonstrates the contrast between the breadth of subjects encompassed by the forums at issue and WMATA’s in which, unlike the restrictions struck down by the Court, Guideline 12 does not function to exclude religious viewpoints but rather proscribes advertisements on the entire subject matter of religion.
Judge Wilkins, while joining the court's opinion, filed a concurring opinion as well.  Washington Times reports on the decision.