Two Cases Illustrate the Discriminations Facing People of Faith Today
- By Alan Sears
- Posted Mar 19, 2013
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The dangers posed more and more across America to the First Amendment protections of Christians like you – and your children – often show themselves in subtle ways. A small legal bias here, an evasion of religious freedom there, and those who would sideline people of faith gain one more crucial foothold of legal ground they can use to block the spread of the Gospel.
It is our commitment at Alliance Defending Freedom to be ever vigilant for these encroachments on your freedom, and to offer the strongest possible legal defense, so that you and your children and grandchildren will be able to live out your faith gracefully, thoughtfully, openly in your community. Two recent cases show exactly the kind of intrusions we are battling nationwide.
In Swiftwater, Pennsylvania, officials at Barrett Elementary School blocked a fifth-grade girl from handing out invitations to her classmates for a Christmas party at her church. Attorneys for the Pocono Mountain school district attempted to argue that, in effect, because the girl was a minor, First Amendment protections of religious freedom do not apply.
But earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit unanimously affirmed a lower court’s order that found the district’s policies unconstitutional, particularly since it had allowed other young children to hand out similar invitations to secular activities. “The fact that [this student] was only in the fifth-grade and the invitation originated from her church does not mandate a different approach,” the court noted in its opinion.
“Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas,” says Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel David Cortman, who argued before the court in October of last year. “Those ideas include a 5th-grader’s invitations to a religious event. The 3rd Circuit was correct in striking down the school district’s unconstitutional ban.”
In Gilbert, Arizona, our attorneys are hoping for a similar ruling against a similar discrepancy being inflicted on people of faith. According to local ordinances, political signs of up to 32 square feet can be displayed in public rights-of-way for many weeks, and ideological signs of up to 20 square feet, can be displayed in public rights-of-way indefinitely. A church event sign, though, can only be 6 square feet, cannot be placed in public rights-of-way, and may not be displayed more than 12 hours before or one hour after a church service or event.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys have asked the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to weigh in on a lawsuit filed on behalf of Good News Community Church against the city, after a three-judge panel last month ruled 2-1 against the church.
“A city’s sign ordinances shouldn’t burden churches with restrictions that don’t apply equally to all similar signs,” says Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco, who argued the church’s case before a three-judge panel of the court last summer. “The government cannot require churches to abide by these stricter rules when it doesn’t place them on ideological, political, and other non-commercial signs that are comparable in nature. The Constitution prohibits that discrimination.”
You’ll note that both of these cases have gone to federal Courts of Appeal – the nation’s second-highest tribunals. Getting a case that far requires strenuous and expensive legal effort, from both ourselves and our opponents … an indication of how important these “small” cases are, and of how nation-shaping the final rulings can be. Please join us in rejoicing over the important win in Pennsylvania, and in praying for a similar victory in Arizona, and in other courts around the country where our staff and allied attorneys are faithfully fighting for our religious freedoms.
Author: Alan Sears