Even Metro’s top official does not like the advertisement in one train station telling the U.S. president to go to hell.
But General Manager Richard Sarles says he can’t do anything about it.
The controversial ad at the Clarendon station that includes the tagline "Go to hell Barack" has sparked angry responses and garnered national media attention. Earlier this week, Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va, asked Metro to take it down. The agency's own union employees also have asked for it to be removed.
“Like many of you, I am deeply offended by this ad and find it disrespectful to President Obama, and the nation,” General Manager Richard Sarles wrote to employees on Friday.
But the agency cannot remove it, he said, because the courts have ruled that Metro’s advertising program is protected under the First Amendment’s rights to free speech.
The transit system has lost lawsuits when it refused to run ads. Previously, it has had to run posters suggesting that President Reagan led a "jelly bean republic" after losing a court decision in 1984.
“There are very few limits placed on freedom of speech and, unfortunately, the language used in the ad would not be included under those few exceptions,” Sarles wrote.
The transit agency's ads cannot be factually misleading or false, nor can they violate laws or incite violence. Profanity is out but apparently “hell” does not meet the definition. Everything else must be accepted.
Still, Sarles said Metro did ask the advertiser, a California movie company, to remove the ad on Thursday. The company declined. That means the ad will stay up until the ad campaign’s deal expires on March 11, he said.