As long as I’ve been working in a world where faith clashes daily – and everywhere – with a culture determined to silence it, I still marvel, sometimes, at the lengths people go to in an effort to avoid the truth. So often, public officials and judges seem to me like “Miracle Max” – the old magician from The Princess Bride who tries to avoid his wife’s confrontations by running around with his hands over his ears, crying, “I’m not listening! I’m not listening!”
Three Alliance Defending Freedom cases in point:
Free Speech on City Buses
In Fort Wayne, Indiana, Women’s Health Link, a free pro-life health care referral resource for women, tried to buy ad space on buses from the city’s public transportation company, Citilink. Their proposed ad reached out to women seeking physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental health care, and featured the center’s contact information, along with a picture of a young woman and the tagline, “You are Not Alone.”
The request was denied twice – because, Citilink said, Women’s Health Link is associated with Allen County Right to Life (a pro-life organization) and the referral service website contains information on “controversial issues.” Yet Citilink has permitted many other non-profit and government organizations to place similar ads in their buses.
ADF attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Fort Wayne on behalf of Women’s Health Link, but a district court upheld the CitiLink decision. Now we have appealed that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
“Government has a responsibility to ensure equal access to community advertising,” says ADF Senior Legal Counsel Kevin Theriot. “City officials can’t run ads from non-profit groups, such as the United Way, and then single out Women’s Health Link’s nearly identical ad for censorship. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all people, regardless of their political or religious views.”
Scripture Reference in a Locker Room
In the city of Golden, the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) announced a fundraising program through which donors to the school’s new athletic facility could inscribe personalized nameplates that would be placed in the facility’s locker room. Nameplates could include up to three lines of a personalized message or a quote chosen by the donor, and no restrictions were placed on what could be inscribed.
Until, that is, alumnus Michael Lucas, a former defensive nose tackle for CSM, asked to put “Colossians 3:23 and Micah 5:9” on his plate. Suddenly, the school decided that not all plates would be accepted. They rejected Lucas’ nameplate because, they said, one of the Bible verses refers to “the Lord” (even though the text of the verses doesn’t appear on the plate).
ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit against the school in district court on Lucas’ behalf, but withdrew it earlier this month after administrators opted to end the fundraising program – and remove all the nameplates – rather than risk having to place Lucas’ Scripture references in the locker room.
“Contrary to what the school argued, the First Amendment protects – not restricts – a simple reference to a Bible verse in this context,” says ADF Senior Counsel David Hacker. “Because the school apparently feared a simple Scripture reference would be like asbestos on the locker room walls, it decided to purge any trace of free expression from the facility.”
Not at Liberty
In Albany, New York, Cynthia and Robert Gifford own a farm, live in a barn they built on the property, and have occasionally hosted weddings on its first floor and in the surrounding backyard area. Cynthia serves as a wedding coordinator for those events and does everything but officiate the ceremony. When a woman called about the farm hosting her upcoming same-sex ceremony, Cynthia demurred, politely explaining that, because of her Christian faith’s teachings on marriage, she cannot coordinate same-sex ceremonies. That said, she left open an invitation for the woman to visit the farm to consider it as a potential reception site.
You probably know where this is going. The woman and her partner filed a complaint with the Division of Human Rights, which found the Giffords guilty of “sexual orientation discrimination,” fined them $10,000 (plus $3,000 in damages), and ordered them to take re-education classes to unlearn their religious beliefs about marriage.
ADF attorneys had appealed that decision, arguing that, just as the First Amendment prohibits the government from forcing an individual to salute the flag in school, it also prohibits it from forcing a wedding coordinator like Cynthia to plan and participate in a ceremony that violates her faith. The state appeals court, however, upheld the earlier decision, allowing the government coercion to continue.
So, unlike Miracle Max, these judges and officials have gone beyond refusing to listen to ideas they don’t agree with. They now are moving to silence the voices that speak those ideas … and increasingly, to order forced indoctrinations designed to bring our souls in line with the government’s position.
As we pray … as we talk with our friends, neighbors, and fellow church members … as we vote … as we explain a changing world to our children and grandchildren … it’s vital that we listen, and look, and read, and know what is happening in the culture around us. Because freedom, undefended, can evaporate – whether we’re listening or not.
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