When It Comes To Free Speech, Not Everyone Is A Good Sport

When it comes to free speech, not everyone is a good sport

It would be wonderful if, amid the culture wars, our families’ playgrounds and playing fields could be declared “neutral territory” – places dedicated to healthy recreation and spirited competition, free of the political maneuverings and agendas that increasingly crowd every arena of our public life. Unfortunately, that’s not the case … as witness two cases where even the most basic freedoms of speech and faith are being oppressed by the absurd sensibilities of political correctness:

In Overland Park, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, the president of Victory Through Jesus Sports Ministries, along with his wife and two sons, stood out on a public sidewalk in front of the city’s soccer complex, handing out fliers promoting a Christian soccer camp for children.

City officials and police approached the family and ordered them to stop distributing the fliers – or face arrest. Astonished, the family bowed to that demand, but later enlisted attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom to file suit on their behalf in federal court.

As it turned out, the city had no formal policy about distributing flyers at the time the officers confronted the family, but city officials quickly passed a resolution declaring virtually the entire soccer complex property, both inside and outside of its gates, “to be ‘non-public’ forums, not open to the indiscriminate use of the general public for First Amendment expressive activity.”

The thing is, as the court pointed out, city officials don’t get to decide whether or not to go along with the Constitution. “There is no reason to view these sidewalks as any different from any other city sidewalks,” the court ruled. “It would, of course, be absurd if the government could evade the First Amendment guarantee of free speech simply by expressing an intent to do so.”

The court not only ruled in favor of the ministry and support of free speech – it ordered payment of attorney fees in the amount of $50,000.

“We hope other cities will take note of this ruling and understand the importance of respecting the Constitution’s free speech protections,” says ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. That hope is now particularly focused a little farther south, in Lubbock, Texas, where ADF attorneys have filed an appeal of a federal judge’s ruling earlier this summer blocking a faith-based ad from appearing on a public school jumbotron during high school football games.

The ad is for JesusTattoo.org, and it’s sponsored by Little Pencil, LLC, an organization that promotes Bible teachings through contemporary marketing campaigns. The ad consists of the website address and an image of Jesus Christ wearing tattoos that represent the sins he bore on the cross. Visitors to the website can watch an allegorical video showing struggling individuals going to Jesus for help. Jesus changes their negative tattoos, representing their struggles, into positive ones.

The religious message of the JesusTattoo ad has really gotten under the skin of Lubbock Independent School District officials, who – curiously – harbor no similar qualms about displaying ads for other non-school-related groups, including other religious-oriented material. ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit earlier this year, citing First Amendment protections of free speech and pointing out the district’s highly selective enforcement of its policies with regard to advertising. A federal district judge ruled in favor of the district’s censorship early this summer, and ADF has now filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

“It’s not the government’s job to pick and choose between religious organizations and their missions when determining who can have ad space,” says Theriot. “The district court’s decision was in error, and we hope the 5th Circuit will affirm that the constitutionally protected messages of all Americans should be free from government censorship.”

It’s a whole new legal ballgame out there, with the strike zone getting tighter and many of the close calls going against people of faith. Please be in prayer for all of our ADF staff and allied attorneys, as they take on more and more of these kinds of cases to defend your family’s God-given and constitutionally-protected freedoms.

Author: Alliance Defending Freedom