Friday, March 30, 2007

Police Back Away From Threats To Arrest Christians

Canon City, CO - In response to a demand letter from Liberty Counsel, the Canon City attorney issued a written response stating that its police will not arrest those who engage in constitutionally protected speech on public sidewalks within the city. Additionally, the city's chief of police issued a written warning to his officers and dispatchers stating that "individuals have an absolute right to preach and be in front of businesses as long as they are not blocking the ingress/egress of the building. We will not threaten to arrest them for disorderly conduct over a free speech matter." The police chief's warning to his officers concluded with the following words in all caps for emphasis: "USE EXTREME CAUTION AND DON'T BE DRUG INTO THE POTENTIAL OF A FEDERAL CIVIL ACTION FILED AGAINST YOU, ME AND THE CITY OF CANON CITY."
Liberty Counsel was contacted by Norman Robinovitz and Bill Phillips, two evangelists who have stood on public sidewalks talking to people about their Christian faith and handing out literature over the past seven years. On three evenings in March, after they shared their Christian faith with individuals outside of two local bars, someone called police to investigate these activities. After the third call, the men were threatened with arrest for disorderly conduct. They were told if they continued their activities they were "headed for jail time." At all times Robinovitz and Phillips were peaceful and did not amplify their voices. The complaints were obvious attempts by the bar owners and workers to prevent the evangelists from speaking to the bar patrons.
Liberty Counsel Senior Litigation Counsel David Corry sent a letter to the city of Canon City advising that discussion of one's faith, distributing literature and witnessing on public sidewalks were activities protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Liberty Counsel demanded assurances that the evangelists would not be arrested for sharing their faith and requested an immediate response.
Peaceful speech on public sidewalks is a protected activity over which opposing hecklers or political correctness have no voice. Extreme caution ought to be exercised by police officers and other government officials when their own ideologies or members of the public pressure them to silence peaceful voices in public places.

Monday, March 12, 2007

U.S. Attorney General Launches New Initiative to Protect Religious Freedom

In Washington, D.C. U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales recently announced that the Department of Justice is launching an initiative to protect religious freedom called "The First Freedom Project." This new initiative focuses on increasing enforcement against religious discrimination and protecting religious freedom. Liberty Counsel, a national public interest litigation, education and policy organization, applauds the Attorney General for launching this initiative to help stop religious discrimination.
A key element of the First Freedom Project will include regional training seminars hosted by the Department of Justice (DOJ). These seminars will be for religious, community, and civil rights leaders, government officials, attorneys and others interested in religious freedom. No prior legal experience is necessary to attend these seminars.
The first three regional seminars are set for Kansas City, Missouri on March 29; Tampa, Florida on April 25; and Seattle, Washington on May 10. Each seminar will be held from 9:00 a.m. until noon. These seminars will cover religious discrimination in public schools and colleges, religious discrimination and public employees, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, public accommodation and equal access to public facilities. The First Freedom Project also has a new web site located at www.FirstFreedom.gov. For more information about the regional seminars, interested participants can call the DOJ at (202) 353-8622 or Liberty Counsel at (800) 671-1776.
I applaud Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for launching the First Freedom Project to protect religious freedom in this country. Liberty Counsel has been dedicated to protecting religious freedom since 1989. At Liberty University School of Law we are training a new generation of lawyers to protect religious freedom. Since religious freedom occupies first place in our Bill of Rights, it is obvious that the Founders realized its importance.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Liberty Counsel Defends Ten Commandments Display In Florida

In Cross City, FL Liberty Counsel has agreed to represent Dixie County in a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU, after the county permitted a local company to erect a Ten Commandments monument near the county courthouse.
The stately black granite monument, standing over five feet tall and weighing roughly six tons, was purchased by Anderson Columbia, a highway construction company. The company asked for and received permission to place the monument near the Dixie County courthouse. Anderson Columbia prides itself on community involvement and has also donated labor and materials for a track at a local high school.
The ACLU is seeking removal of the monument, damages and attorney's fees, claiming that the monument is a violation of the Establishment Clause. Liberty Counsel has represented more than a dozen displays on government property that include the Ten Commandments. Most recently, Liberty Counsel prevailed in cases at the Sixth and Seventh Circuit Courts of Appeal against challenges brought by the ACLU.
In 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a 6-foot granite monument displayed on the state capitol grounds in Austin, Texas, was constitutional. Citing the Supreme Court case, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a stand-alone Ten Commandments monument in a city park, in an 11-2 ruling against the ACLU.
Dixie County is not establishing a religion by allowing a private company to place a monument in a location where similarly donated monuments may be placed. The Ten Commandments are universally recognized as symbolic of the law and are appropriate for display in courthouses and similar settings. Public display of the Commandments is consistent with our nation's history and with the First Amendment. There are more than 50 depictions of the Ten Commandments in the U.S. Supreme Court, and there have been thousands of displays throughout the country for many years.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Liberty University School of Law's Supreme Court Trial Room

Lynchburg, VA – The long anticipated unveiling of the unique Supreme Courtroom at Liberty University School of Law (LUSL) became a reality during a dedication ceremony this afternoon. The Supreme Courtroom reflects the vision of the law school, and it is designed to inspire vision in its students. The mission of LUSL is to train lawyers, judges, educators, policymakers and world leaders in the rule of law from the perspective of a Christian worldview.
The central features of the room are patterned after the United States Supreme Court. Attention to detail makes the Supreme Courtroom distinct from other law school courtrooms. The beauty of the Supreme Courtroom is stunning; its design reflects a state-of-the-art, one-of-a-kind facility; its functionality is unparalleled. The actual blueprints of the interior chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court were used in its construction and design. The bench for nine Justices, the angles, the elevation of the bench from the floor, and the distance of the bench from the podium are all exact. The four large Roman columns behind the bench reflect the columns behind the Supreme Court's bench. At 4,400 square feet, the interior of the Supreme Courtroom is larger than the interior of the Supreme Court, and unlike the Supreme Court, the Supreme Courtroom is equipped with cutting-edge AV and IT technology. Cameras at the front and back, a document projector and a smart technology podium allow document viewing, PowerPoint, video, and the internet to be projected on two 16- by 9-foot retractable screens.
The Supreme Courtroom will be a venue for preparing real cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, actual court sessions by state and federal courts of appeal, reenactments of historic cases, moot court competitions, and national speakers. The room will host a speakers' forum with historian David Barton of WallBuilders on Wednesday, the Lynchburg Bar Association's continuing legal education program a few days later, and a Christianity and American History Conference next month with Dr. Daniel Dreisbach and others.
LUSL graduates its first class in May and currently has 150 students, with plans to accommodate a total of 450 students on campus in the full-time J.D. program. Future leaders in law will be trained in the Supreme Courtroom, including some who will one day argue before the Supreme Court and perhaps even serve as a Justice on the High Court. We will read of their exploits and feel the impact these young champions will have on the culture.
When students walk into the Supreme Courtroom, it is our intention to inspire them to lift their eyes and raise their expectations to new heights. There is no question that some of our students will argue before the Supreme Court. Others will aspire to the heights of government, public policy, public interest law, education, business, private practice or missions. We are equipping them to use law as a fulcrum for good throughout the world."

Monday, March 05, 2007

Alaska Court Allows Church To Defend Tax Exempt Status

In Anchorage, AK on Friday the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that a church will be allowed to defend a lawsuit brought by the ACLU challenging certain tax exemptions.
Anchorage Baptist Temple (ABT) sought to intervene in two lawsuits challenging a statewide tax exemption on real property owned by a religious organization when the property serves as the residence of an educator in a private religious or parochial school. The ACLU and other plaintiffs allege that the exemptions violate equal protection and establishment clauses of the state and federal constitutions. ABT is represented by Liberty Counsel. Dr. Jerry Prevo is the pastor of ABT.
ABT operates a number of ministries, including alcohol and drug abuse recovery programs, community outreaches, children's programs, a bus transportation service, music programs, and Anchorage Christian School, a K-12 school serving approximately 700 students. ABT owns six residences that house teachers at Anchorage Christian School. These residences are integral to ABT's educational mission, in that they enable ABT to recruit and retain a well-qualified teaching staff, despite being unable to offer the wage and benefit programs offered by public schools.
The "religious teacher exemption" enacted by the Alaska legislature applies to ABT's teachers' residences, as well as similar properties owned by other religious organizations. Without the exemption, ABT would have to divert approximately $23,000 per year from its other services to pay property taxes. That continuing tax liability would force ABT to choose between recruiting and retaining teachers and providing services to the community. Other churches will face similar hardships if the tax exemption law is invalidated.
Alaska Baptist Temple will now have its day in court to defend a fair and reasonable tax exemption against the ACLU's frivolous attack. Evidently the ACLU would rather kick the teachers out in the cold. This attitude shows a callous indifference to the educational needs of Alaskan children.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Twelve Students Receive 10-Day Suspension for Praying Before School

Vancouver, WA - Today twelve high school students at Heritage High School were suspended for ten days for gathering to pray before school. Liberty Counsel is providing legal assistance to the students who were suspended.

A few weeks ago, the students tried to start a prayer club, but the school's vice principal, Alex Otoupal, would not let them meet in a private room. The students gathered in the cafeteria before school to pray, but a Satanist student went to the school office and complained. As a result, Vice Principal Otoupal told the Christian students they could not pray in the cafeteria but would have to go outside. After the students insisted on praying in the cafeteria because of inclement weather, Otoupal suspended them for ten days.

It is absolutely outrageous that the school allowed one Satanist student to exercise a heckler's veto over the other students' speech. This situation underscores the ignorance of school officials regarding the constitutional rights of students. Most of the students who were suspended are immigrants from Russia. We must show them that America is still the land of the free. School officials must immediately reverse the suspensions.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

College Loses $12 Million Pledge Over Cross Removal

In Williamsburg, VA on Wednesday, College of William and Mary officials admitted that their decision last fall to remove a brass cross from Wren Chapel has cost the institution a $12 million donation from a "longtime donor." The cross had stood in the chapel for 75 years without controversy.
Gene R. Nichol, president of the public institution in Williamsburg, Virginia, announced in October that the cross should be stored to make people of other faiths more comfortable using the chapel. The decision ignited controversy among alumni, students and others across the nation. Liberty Counsel sent a letter to President Nichol and Chancellor (former U.S. Supreme Court Justice) Sandra Day O'Connor, explaining that the message the college sent by removing the cross was not of inclusiveness and tolerance, but of intolerance and hostility.
In December, Nichol announced that the cross would be returned to the chapel on Sundays, during Christian religious services, or when requested by a visitor. Although this was a step in the right direction, college officials underestimated the fallout from their failure to return to the traditional display of the Wren Chapel cross. Perhaps they are beginning to understand that they should have left the cross undisturbed.
While common sense and a legal opinion did not convince President Nichol to return the cross to its previous display, maybe losing 12 million dollars will. The loss of confidence in President Nichol by alumni and donors can only be restored if he apologizes for his actions and returns the cross to its rightful position, where it has stood for the last 75 years.