Continuing on the theme from the other day, here are more examples of the innumerable cases where, contrary to the absurd rhetoric of the likes of Joseph Farah, the ACLU has defended the free exercise rights of Christians and Christian organizations. Here’s a story about how the ACLU of Nevada has been defending the right of street preachers to preach to people on the sidewalks of Las Vegas. The preachers themselves, as the article notes, hate the ACLU and think they’re anti-Christian, but the ACLU defends them anyway because their client is really the Constitutional principle of free speech, not the preachers themselves.
In another story involving street preachers, the ACLU of Indiana has filed suit against the city of Scottsburg on behalf of Pastor John Lewis of the Old Paths Baptist Church to get the police to stop harrassing him when he preaches on the street against abortion and homosexuality, among other things. The police have repeatedly threatened to arrest Lewis, which prompted the ACLU action:
Scottsburg police told Pastor Lewis that they are concerned about the possible reaction of listeners who hear plaintiffs’ message, which is delivered on city sidewalks through megaphones providing moderate amplified sounds that are no louder than passing traffic.
“Pastor Lewis and his church members were ordered to stop, not because there was some ordinance they were violating or that the noise rose to the level of disorderly conduct, but because the police were concerned that the persons hearing the message might react against it,” said ICLU Legal Director Ken Falk. “This appears to be a classic case of a “heckler’s veto” which is unconstitutional.”
In yet another street preaching case, the ACLU of Washington represented a minister named Donald Ausderau and reached a settlement with the Spokane Transit Authority that allows him and others to continue to speak, perform and hand out literature at a central gathering place called the Plaza in downtown Spokane.
The Iowa Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU affiliate in that state, in 2002 filed briefs with the court defending the right of students in the Davenport public schools to hand out religious literature to their schoolmates:
“The school’s policy against the distribution of religious literature outside of class is clearly wrong,” said Ben Stone, Executive Director of the ICLU. “Not only does the policy violate the students’ right to freely exercise their religious beliefs, but it also infringes on their free speech rights,” he said…
According to the ICLU, the literature ban could be an example of poorly informed school officials acting out of ignorance. “Once in a while, we hear of schools taking away a kid’s Bible at school or not letting students say grace before lunch,” Stone said. “Such restrictions are dead wrong, and are usually stopped rather quickly once the school receives some instruction on constitutional law. Let’s hope the Davenport schools change their policy without further litigation,” said Stone.
Stone noted that ICLU’s position in this case is perfectly consistent with its recent litigation to prevent another local school from having students sing “The Lord’s Prayer” during graduation.
“The First Amendment says the government can’t restrict the right of people to practice their personal religious beliefs, while at the same time it forbids the government from endorsing religious beliefs, especially in a school setting,” said Stone.
In another school story, the ACLU of Massachusetts, as I noted a couple days ago, went to bat in Federal district court on behalf of high school students who were disciplined by the school for handing out candy canes with religious messages attached to them:
“Students have a right to communicate ideas, religious or otherwise, to other students during their free time, before or after class, in the cafeteria, or elsewhere,” said ACLU cooperating attorney Jeffrey Pyle, the main author of a friend-of-the-court brief submitted in the case…
The students each received a one-day suspension, which school officials agreed not to enforce after they were contacted by the ACLU of Massachusetts. The students subsequently filed a lawsuit asking the court to order to school not to interfere further with their right to hand out religious information.
In legal papers filed today, the ACLU of Massachusetts argued that the school rule interferes with the free speech rights of public high school students in Massachusetts under both state law and the First Amendment, which protects their speech as long as it does not disrupt the educational process.
Here in Michigan, the ACLU intervened on behalf of a high school valedictorian when the school forbid her to use a bible verse in her school yearbook profile. As I wrote in an entry last May, they reached a settlement with the school district that protected her right to do so and that required the school to have in-service days with their teachers and administrators to train them on how to handle free speech and free exercise situations within constitutional boundaries.
There are many more cases I could cite, of course. The bottom line is that when religious right sources say things like, “The American Civil Liberties Union is engaged in a long-term, relentless and well-funded campaign to remove every vestige of Christian expression from America’s government, schools and public property” (source), they are lying to you, plain and simple. They are engaging in intentional distortions in pursuit of their agenda of demagoguery.