The Washington Metro and the Naked Public Square

In 2015, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) banned “issues-oriented” advertising of a political or religious nature from its buses, trains, and stations. Following this policy, the WMATA recently rejected a Christmas-themed advertisement submitted by the Catholic archdiocese, which has responded by challenging the policy in court. Sohrab Ahmari comments:

The ad, which was to be displayed on the side of WMATA buses, depicted the three shepherds against a starry night and urged commuters to “find the perfect gift” for the season—i.e., faith and service to the poor. According to the complaint, the transit authority rejected the ad soon after it was submitted, and subsequently refused to meet representatives of the archdiocese hoping to make their case.

The WMATA claims that its policy is non-discriminatory and therefore constitutional. All forms of political and religious expression are restricted in theory. But the archdiocese makes a strong case that the policy has been applied in “arbitrary and unreasonable” fashion. Since the ban was promulgated, for example, the WMATA has accepted ads for yoga, which is based on Hindu spirituality, as well as the Salvation Army, which is a Protestant Christian organization. Commercial ads pegged to the “holiday season” would also presumably survive WMATA scrutiny, even though the “season” in question refers to Christian and Jewish holy days.

No government authority should exercise such broad and unaccountable discretion when it comes to restricting First Amendment rights, even if the policy were applied uniformly. As it is, the policy prevents political, civil-society, commercial, and religious groups of all stripes from making their pitch, so to speak, in the nation’s capital, home base for all three branches of the U.S. government.

The cultural impact of the policy is equally deplorable. Years ago, the late [Catholic theologian and intellectual] Richard John Neuhaus and other social conservatives raised the alarm about the “naked public square”—democracies shorn of Judeo-Christianity and the public moral culture essential to sustaining freedom. The naked public square flies in the face of an American constitutional tradition that invites religious symbols and ideas while maintaining the basic secularity of the state.

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories free

Register Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in now

Read more at Commentary

More about: American politics, Freedom of Religion, Religion & Holidays

The Evidence of BDS Anti-Semitism Speaks for Itself

Oct. 18 2019

Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs recently released a lengthy report titled Behind the Mask, documenting the varieties of naked anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery employed by the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the Jewish state (BDS). Drawn largely but not exclusively from Internet sources, its examples range from a tweet by a member of Students for Justice in Palestine (the “world would be soooo much better without jews man”), to an enormous inflated pig bearing a star of David and floating behind the stage as the rock musician Roger Waters performs, to accusations by an influential anti-Israel blogger that Israel is poisoning Palestinian wells. Cary Nelson sums up the report’s conclusions and their implications, all of which give the lie to the disingenuous claim that critics of BDS are trying to brand “legitimate criticism of Israel” as anti-Semitic.

Sign up to read more

You've read all your free articles for this month


Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Fathom

More about: Anti-Semitism, BDS, Roger Waters, Social media