Mar 19, 2009

Religious Freedoms Protected by Lawyers?

By Chuck Missler

In 1962-1963, the American Civil Liberties Union successfully fought cases to ban school-sponsored prayer and Bible reading from public schools. The Ten Commandments, Bible clubs, and even a small cross on the seal of Los Angeles County have since come under attack. In the name of freedom of religion, the ACLU and other liberal legal groups have often attacked America's Christian heritage. The ACLU, however, does not hold the monopoly in fighting for civil liberties in the United States. A number of conservative legal organizations have formed through the years to fight for freedom of religious expression. Consider some recent cases:

Gospel Tractor Trailer: The Alliance Defense Fund has reached a settlement with the New York Department of Transportation over a tractor trailer with a Christian message on private property in Binghamton, NY. Business owner Daniel Burritt had been told by NYDOT that his tractor trailer would be removed for him if he did not take it out of view of the highway. The truck was considered a "public nuisance" because Burritt had neatly placed on it the message:
After displaying the trailer on his private business property along US Route 11, town officials cited Burritt because of the bold message. Those charges were soon dropped after ADF attorneys got involved. However, in June 2008, NYDOT told Burritt he had to have a permit to keep his truck in that location – even though permits are not required for commercial messages displayed in a similar manner.

The ADF filed a lawsuit on Burritt's behalf, arguing that Burritt's constitutional rights were violated in this attack on his freedom of speech. NYDOT has agreed to a settlement and is permitting Burritt to keep his large evangelism tool on his property along the highway.

"No Christian should be singled out and penalized for sharing his beliefs," said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. "After reaching this settlement with NYDOT, we are pleased Mr. Burritt can now freely enjoy his First Amendment right to display a religious message on his own property."

Christ-Sharing Valedictorian: Erica Corder spoke about her faith at her Colorado high school's graduation in 2006, and was told after the graduation service that she would not receive her diploma until she'd signed an official apology. Corder, along with 14 other students, had been permitted to speak for 30 seconds, and Corder used her opportunity to share the Gospel with her graduating class at Lewis-Palmer High School. Corder signed the apology under pressure, and it was handed out to the entire student body. Corder later sought legal help, and in 2007 a lower court decided that her speech was school-sponsored and did not constitute private free speech. Therefore, the court said, the school was within its bounds to force her apology.

Last week, Liberty Counsel presented arguments on Corder's behalf before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that Corder's speech was in fact private and was protected under the First Amendment.

Liberty Counsel's Vice President for Legal Affairs Steve Crampton commented:
"Erica Corder should have received a medal for her courageous message. Instead, the dream of her graduation address turned into an ongoing nightmare. We are hopeful that the well-prepared panel who heard argument today will agree with us that there is simply no legitimate pedagogical interest in the school's harsh treatment of Erica, simply for her sharing her faith. Forcing Erica to write an apology with which she did not agree is something you might expect in a totalitarian regime, but not in a free republic."
Memorial Crosses: The Pacific Justice Institute presented oral arguments before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals last week on behalf of the Utah Sheriff's Association to defend the use of crosses as roadside memorials of fallen state troopers. An atheist group has claimed that because the privately-funded crosses bear the Utah Highway Patrol insignia, they have violated the separation of Church and State. In a lower court ruling, a federal district judge decided that the crosses were not being used to promote religion, but were appropriate memorials to honor fallen officers.

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, commented,
"It is unfortunate that not even tributes to fallen highway patrol officers are safe from atheist lawsuits. No one is forcing anyone else to be religious here; these crosses are simply an easily-recognized method of conveying respect to heroes who have clearly earned it."
The Alliance Defense Fund, Liberty Counsel, and Pacific Justice Institute and other valuable groups of legal experts are fighting to protect religious freedom in the United States from those who want to secularize America in every public forum. It is important that Americans know about organizations like these so that they can both support them and seek their assistance when valuable rights are threatened.

Related Links
It's Settled: Tractor Trailer Displaying Christian Message Remains - Alliance Defense Fund
Liberty Counsel Argues High School Valedictorian Case - Liberty Counsel
Atheists Ask Federal Court to Ban Highway Memorial Crosses - Pacific Justice Institute
N.Y. Town Silences Religious Speech On Private Property - Alliance Defense Fund
News Links - American Center for Law & Justice