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Religious Liberty


ACLU Provides Guidance to all Superintendents on Loyalty Oaths

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 18, 2015

CONTACT: Tyler Richard, (402) 476-8091 x104, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 LINCOLN, Neb – Following complaints from educators in multiple school districts, the ACLU of Nebraska today issued guidance to all public school superintendents advising them that requiring public employees to sign “loyalty pledges” like the one adopted for educators in Nebraska in 1951, is unconstitutional. Last week the ACLU contacted Hastings Public Schools following complaints from Hastings educators.

“The court case striking down loyalty oaths in Nebraska is one of the earliest in the ACLU’s nearly 50 year history of protecting the individual rights and liberties of all Nebraskans,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Danielle Conrad. “No educator who loves teaching should have to choose between their jobs or their First Amendment rights of free speech or religious freedom.”

The letter says that multiple court cases, including ones decided by the United States Supreme Court and the Lancaster County District Court of Nebraska, have struck down similar loyalty oaths. In the U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1967, the court stated, “Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.”

“We are pleased that Hastings Public Schools has said it will not require employees to sign the pledge,” said Conrad, “However, even presenting this pledge has created a distraction for the district and confusion among valued team members. We encourage schools to leave this unconstitutional loyalty pledge in the past where it belongs so they can focus on providing a high quality education to their students.”

 

ACLU of Nebraska sues City of Lincoln for First Amendment violations at Pinnacle Bank Arena

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 12, 2015

CONTACT:  Tyler Richard, (402) 476-8091 x104, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Lincoln, Neb. – Today, the ACLU of Nebraska has asked a court for a temporary restraining order claiming that the City of Lincoln violated the First Amendment rights of Larry Ball. Mr. Ball, a 77-year-old Navy Veteran and father of four, was cited on Thursday and Saturday of last week for distributing religious pamphlets outside of the Pinnacle Bank Arena. The pamphlets, designed by Mr. Ball, share what he describes as his life and marriage being saved when he became a Christian four decades ago.

“Our client Larry Ball is a veteran, a father, and a taxpayer with deeply held religious beliefs,” said ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad. “He has the right to free speech and religious freedom in the public square free from government prosecution. This is about free speech. This is about religious freedom, This is a public space. The City of Lincoln cannot dodge nor delegate their constitutional responsibilities to the management of the Pinnacle Bank Arena. We call upon Mayor Beutler to drop the charges against Mr. Ball immediately and negotiate a common sense policy to end this matter once and for all. Taxpayer funds should not be wasted prosecuting Mr. Ball or defending unconstitutional polices that put a black eye on the beautiful new public arena that has otherwise brought so much excitement to the city of Lincoln.”

In March 2014, Mr. Ball was first arrested for expressing his religious views outside of the Arena. The ACLU of Nebraska successfully defended Mr. Ball and charges were dropped by the City of Lincoln in May 2014. Since then, Pinnacle Bank Arena management announced a policy that the ACLU argues violates free speech rights. According to the ACLU, multiple court cases demonstrate that even when a public space is being managed by a private entity, free speech rights must be respected.

"I served to protect the freedoms we have in this country," said Mr. Ball. "Now I want to exercise those freedoms by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.  This news changed my life and it can help others change also."

In recent years, the ACLU has also defended religious speech rights of students wanting to wear rosaries at a public school in Fremont, supported churches facing challenges at their place of worship due to zoning ordinances, and protected the religious rights of a student wishing to discuss her faith in her valedictorian speech.

Thomas White from the Omaha-based law firm of White & Jorgensen is serving as co-counsel on Mr. Ball’s case.

For more:

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ABOUT: The ACLU of Nebraska and its diverse membership works in courts, the legislature and our communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States and Nebraska guarantee everyone in this state.

Attachments:
Download this file (Ball Complaint FILE STAMPED.pdf)Ball Complaint FILE STAMPED.pdf[ ]344 Kb
 

Guidance regarding Religious Displays on Public Spaces

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Nativity scenes and holiday displays on public property frequently draw public attention. The ACLU supports the rights of Christians and all religious people to celebrate their holidays in public spaces. We oppose government action that promotes or endorses particular religions or religion over non-religion. Our views are dictated by the Constitution of the United States and our commitment to religious liberty for all. 
Nativity scenes on public property can violate the Constitution under two conditions:

 

  1. The scene is a stand alone display without secular non-religious symbols (ex: candy cane, snowman, toy soldier).
  2. The scene is a display that is only used during the holiday for a religious message.

 

ACLU of Nebraska has successfully taken on nativity scenes across the state.  We will not be taking any action against the scene currently on display at the state capitol because while it fits #1, it does not fit #2.

The spot where the nativity scene is sitting is the exact spot used for other private groups’ displays throughout the year.  In other words, it is an open forum the state capitol has created.  How do we know this for sure?  Because ACLU had a display there in 2012 with a giant installation of four large panels featuring the ACLU’s accomplishments over the decades.  And just last year, our client Frank Shoemaker was given permission to put a display calling for the legalization of marijuana in the same spot.

We’ve personally examined the nativity scene in question to ensure it hasn’t been given more prominence or special treatment.  We have ascertained this is the same spot where the marijuana display and the ACLU celebration display were held.

The state capitol has created an open forum that is open to all applicants on a first come, first serve basis. So this is not a violation of the First Amendment religion clause that forbids the establishment of a religion—this is the state accepting a religious group’s application under the First Amendment free speech clause that forbids hostility to any particular content.


As the US Supreme Court has said, private religious speech receives the same amount of protection under the First Amendment as private secular speech.  Capitol Square Review & Advisory Bd. v. Pinette, 515 U.S. 753, 760 (1995); Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263, 271-272 (1981).  The court has held religious speech must be given the same degree of freedom as non-religious speech.  Lamb’s Chapel v. Ctr. Moriches Union Sch. Dist., 508 U.S. 384, 393-394 (1993).  If the government has opened this portion of the capitol as an “open forum” for speech, it must allow religious speech on the same basis as other speech.  This also means that the government must allow religious speech from all religions and may not limit access to Christian or other mainstream religions.

 

Charges dropped in case against ACLU client handing out religious pamphlets

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 3, 2014
CONTACT: Amy Miller, (402) 476-8091 x101, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – The City of Lincoln has dropped charges against Larry Ball, a 77 year old Navy veteran who was ticketed for distributing religious pamphlets outside of the Pinnacle Bank Arena in March. On May 30, by motion of the City Prosecutor, Lancaster County Judge Thomas Fox dismissed the case with all court costs charged to the City.

Joel Donahue, Staff Attorney for the ACLU, said the dismissal of charges is consistent with court rulings in other parts of the country. "Courts have consistently ruled that even if a public arena is managed by a private entity, it is still public property. The city should welcome pamphleteers, demonstrators and others engaging in free speech activity at the arena."

"Our client and all individuals of any faith or political persuasion have the right to express their views on any subject in public," said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. "In dropping the charges, we hope the City of Lincoln has acknowledged the right of all residents to communicate ideas on a public sidewalk. We urge the city to quickly develop a policy that clearly acknowledges the plaza sidewalk is an open free speech zone in order to prevent any future arrests. Meanwhile, we stand ready to take any complaints of censorship at the Arena sidewalk."

ACLU attorney Alan Peterson has offered to assist the City of Lincoln in crafting clear guidance to residents of Lincoln regarding rights of individuals to participate in free speech activities around the arena.

Larry Ball is a father of four who says becoming a Christian four decades ago saved his life and marriage. He shares the story that saved his life by producing pamphlets that he distributes in public areas.

"Telling others my story is such a big part of my life," said Ball who celebrated his 77th birthday on Monday. "I am thrilled that the city will stop interfering with my right to simply share my faith with others. Venues like Memorial Stadium have clear policies – something the city should be doing with the Pinnacle Bank Arena. And the state Capitol and county city buildings have no history of interfering with free speech in their sidewalks and approaches. The Arena area is a great place to be part of the so-called "market place of ideas," where people offer but do not force various opinions on each other. In fact, the whole newly developed area ought to be thought of as the "Haymarket Place of Ideas!"

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ABOUT: ACLU of Nebraska and its diverse membership works in courts, the legislature and our communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States and Nebraska guarantee everyone in this state.

 

ACLU defends Christian who distributed religious pamphlets outside of arena

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 15, 2014
CONTACT: Tyler Richard, (402) 476-8091 x104, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN - Today the ACLU of Nebraska said that Larry Ball was exercising his First Amendment rights when distributing religious pamphlets outside of the Pinnacle Bank Arena in March. In documents filed on behalf of Ball, the ACLU asks for charges to be dismissed. Ball was charged with trespassing.

"Christians and individuals of every faith or view point have the right to express their views in the public square," said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. "Mr. Ball was peacefully handing out religious materials, the very kind of speech which our Constitution was written to protect. The City, by arresting Mr. Ball and charging him with trespassing, has blatantly violated his rights."

Larry Ball is a 76 year old Navy Veteran and father of four who says becoming a Christian four decades ago saved his life and marriage. He share the story that he credits to saving his life with others by producing pamphlets that he distributes in public areas.

"I was told by the Lincoln Police that the arena was managed by a private agency and I was trespassing," said Ball, "I was then arrested. I've been sharing the story of my faith with others on public property for decades. Being told that I couldn't talk about my faith in this way is both offensive and it was illegal to force me to stop."

"The idea that taxpayers approved funding for the arena, appointed public officials to oversee the arena, but have no free speech rights because the city hired a private company to manage the space is disrespectful to the taxpayers of Lincoln," said Miller. "The sidewalk in front of the arena is clearly public land, no matter which entity gets the paycheck for maintaining the space."

In documents filed by the ACLU, the ACLU indicates that courts have looked into similar situations in the past. In 1997, a court ruled that even though the Colorado Rockies are a private entity, Coors Field is public land and sidewalk vendors could not be ticketed for trespassing.

"The adage 'if it looks like a duck, talks like a duck, quacks like a duck then it's a duck' applies to sidewalks," said ACLU of Nebraska Staff Attorney Joel Donahue pointing to a recent court ruling involving a march against child abuse that took place on a public sidewalk. "The area where our client was distributing his religious pamphlets is clearly a public sidewalk and all residents of Lincoln should expect that their First Amendment rights will be protected in that space."

"The US has more expression of religion in the public square than other democracies, a value which the city should be honoring," said Miller. "We hope to see charges dismissed and the sidewalk outside of the arena established as a public forum."

 
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