With the U Street/Cardoza Metro stop just outside, confronting a controversial advertisement from American Freedom Defense Initiative was not theoretical for members of Augustana Lutheran Church in D.C. So the Rev. John Kidd, pastor of the congregation, brought a letter to leaders of the 14 congregations in the District of Columbia of the ELCA Metro D.C. Synod who lent their signatures to its message.

“These ads state: ‘In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man. Support Israel, Defeat Jihad,’” reads the letter.* “We request that [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)] take proactive measures to mitigate the impact of this type of hate speech that has been plaguing our nation.”

“Religious liberty is a big concern for a lot of reasons,” says Pr. Kidd, who first heard of the letter from a congregation member. “I shared the letter with colleagues because I felt it important to be a Christian voice added to it.” He now counts 127 signatories on the letter. “It felt like there was a lot of networking. It is a nice sense to share support and concern in a responsible way.”

The letter asks for three specifics: 1) Close work between WMATA and organizations representing impacted Muslim and Arab communities; 2) Disclaimers showing that the ads do not represent the views of WMATA, modeled after a similar approach in San Francisco; and 3) Free space for counter ads provided by WMATA.

The letter was sent to Catherine Hudgins, WMATA Chairwoman, on October 9, 2012. It states in part, “…it is not our desire that WMATA disallow advertisements that contain any political speech as this would curtail the use of an important forum where ideas are frequently exchanged. We respect the protections afforded to political speech, and do not wish that our position be misinterpreted as advocating for the curtailment of such speech. This being said, we do believe there are measures WMATA can take to mitigate the effect hate speech has on the community…”

    * Find the full letter signed by “District of Columbia Conference of Lutheran Congregations” among others at http://adc.org/fileadmin/ADC/WMATA-Letter-with-Signatories.pdf