Posts Tagged ‘Equal Access’

Upcoming Supreme Court Case Could Greatly Impact the Church

April 6, 2010

On April 19, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in one of the most important religious liberty cases in years, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. Attorneys with ADF and the Christian Legal Society represent a student chapter of CLS at the UC-Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. The law school recognizes a wide array of student groups, but refuses to recognize the CLS group simply because it requires its voting members and officers to share its Christian beliefs.

This case will obviously have significant ramifications for Christian student groups around the country. But what you may not realize is that it could also have significant ramifications for churches and ministry organizations.

The law school’s basic argument is that when it opens up a forum for student groups, it should have the right to ban those groups who have religious-based standards for their leaders or members (as most churches and ministries do). If the U.S. Supreme Court agrees, then these types of “non-discrimination” laws will not be limited to college campuses. They could be imposed on all sorts of public forums, including public facilities where churches commonly meet. In the end, thousands of churches around the country could be left scrambling to find new homes.

It is deeply troubling that non-discrimination laws, which were initially intended to protect religious freedom, are now being used to squelch it. Please pray for our team of attorneys as they prepare for this argument, for the Supreme Court Justices as they consider the case, and for the courageous law school students who are taking a stand for their rights.

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Are Churches More Dangerous than the KKK?

March 12, 2010

Silly question, right? Not to one California church, who was barred from using a public library meeting room, even though the room was open to all other private community groups. The County Librarian even acknowledged that groups like the Ku Klux Klan were free to use the facility. But church services were forbidden.

It may be tempting to dismiss this as one isolated incident. But the sad reality is that these types of policies are prevalent around the country. ADF has successfully represented dozens of churches in similar cases. And we have uncovered hundreds of community centers, libraries, schools, and other public facilities around the country that rent to community groups, but blatantly discriminate against religious groups by refusing to rent to them or by charging them higher rental rates.

These policies make no sense. After all, social science bears out what many of us see as self-evident: churches offer valuable contributions to the community such as social services, education, increased volunteering, and reduced crime. (An Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s paper concisely summarizes many of these studies.) And, especially in this time of economic uncertainty, local governments would surely benefit from the additional revenue it would receive by renting otherwise unused facilities to churches.

So why is there so much hostility toward churches? Public officials often seem to have a Pavlovian-like reaction against anything religious, claiming that the so-called “separation of church and state” prevents churches from ever stepping foot in a public facility. But that’s not what the Constitution actually says. In fact, since 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in four different cases that the First Amendment gives religious groups the right to have equal access to a public forum that other community groups are allowed to use.

Fortunately for the California church, a federal court recognized this precedent and struck down the library policy as unconstitutional, opening the door for churches to have equal access to its meeting rooms. But it took five years of litigation to get there. Other cases have taken much longer. A school district in New York, for example, has been in court for 15 years doggedly fighting to keep churches from meeting in vacant school buildings on weekends.

ADF, who represents both churches, will continue to stand up for the time-honored principle that the First Amendment protects the right of all religious groups to equal access.