ACLU Defends Church's Right to Run "Anti-Santa" Ads in Boston Subways

January 8, 2002 12:00 am

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ACLU Defends Church’s Right to Run “Anti-Santa” Ads in Boston Subways


BOSTON–The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and a local attorney today filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) for removing subway advertisements promoting the views of a local church and refusing to sell additional advertising space to the church.

One of the controversial ads, paid for by The Church of the Good News, said that early Christians did not celebrate Christmas or “”believe in lies about Santa Claus, flying reindeer, elves and drunken parties.”” A second ad, which was rejected by the transit authority and never posted, said, “”There is only one true religion. All the rest are false.””

“”The transit authority has lost at least three other cases involving its refusal to display various ads because of their content or viewpoint,”” said John Reinstein, Legal Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “”We are confident that the court will preserve the principles of religious liberty and free speech and rule in favor of our client.””

The church, represented by the ACLU and Boston civil rights attorney Harvey Schwartz, seeks an injunction ordering the transit authority to sell them advertising space and prohibiting officials from using a vague advertising policy to filter out ad campaigns it finds objectionable.

The transit authority had initially refused to post the church’s ad about Christmas, but relented after attorneys representing the church interceded, saying that the issue was a matter of freedom of religion. But shortly after the Boston Globe ran an article about the ad, officials removed it and told the church that none of its ads would be displayed.

“”The MBTA has a history of refusing advertising space to groups it disagrees with,”” said Harvey Schwartz. “”Under the Constitution, government officials simply do not have that power. It is about time that the MBTA learned this lesson.””

Today’s case was filed in Suffolk Superior Court. A trial in a similar case brought a by drug law reform organization called Change the Climate is scheduled to begin February 1, 2002 in federal court in Boston. The MBTA has refused to sell advertising space to that group as well.

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