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Religious Liberty


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."

 

ACLU Seeks Complaints from Parents with Children in Foster Care

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Organization reminds DHHS to respect religious wishes of parents due to recent complaints

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 12, 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 - In response to a series of recent complaints, the ACLU of Nebraska has issued a reminder to the Department of Health and Human Services that foster parents have failed to honor the religious faith of children in state care. In a letter sent to DHHS Director Thomas Pristow, the ACLU stated that "Religion, or the lack thereof, can play an important role in the lives of children" and that both the Nebraska Supreme Court and the US Supreme Court have recognized the importance of parents in the religious education and training of children.

"The case history and departmental regulations are very clear here – a child in state custody should be raised in a manner consistent with the faith of the parents," said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. "Decades of social science literature show that continued connection with culture and community helps make out of home care less traumatic for children. While we are hopeful that our recent complaints are isolated incidents, we would encourage any parents with children in foster care to contact us if they have concerns about the religious experiences of their children."

According to Joel Donahue, Staff Attorney for the ACLU, the complaints come from families with parents who are either Atheist, Jewish or Christian. Once the children were removed from foster care and returned to their parents, they began to ask their parents if they were going to hell because of the information that was provided to the children by their temporary foster parents.

"Clearly, the children in foster care were being taught religious values which do not fit with their parent's religion," said Donahue. "The state, through foster parents, should not be inserting itself into religious teachings that are up to the parents."
Currently, the ACLU does not have plans for legal action but said it would consider action if it received additional complaints.

"The department has a good policy but we have concerns it isn't being enforced or appropriately communicated to foster parents," said Miller. "If we hear from additional parents while their children are in foster care and learn that this is an ongoing problem, we will have to demand enforcement through legal action."

You can submit a complaint to the ACLU here.

 

Reading. Writing. Religion?

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ACLU to Schools: Don’t Violate Religious Liberty

Letter to superintendents sent in response to teacher complaints about new Pledge rule

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 27, 2012

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

LINCOLN – On Monday ACLU Nebraska sent a letter to all Nebraska superintendents providing guidance on religious liberty and free speech rights for teachers. This was in response to multiple complaints from teachers that have been received by ACLU since the Nebraska State Board of Education passed a mandatory Pledge of Allegiance rule on August 10th.

The letter asserts that “a teacher whose conscience does not permit participation in the Pledge is exempt from the new regulations—just as students are.“

“A Christian teacher concerned about the policy cited a verse from Matthew 5 which, the teacher views as forbidding her/him from saying the Pledge of Allegiance,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. “Just as no student should be made to feel like an outsider or ostracized from the school community, no teacher should be judged on their participation in the Pledge.”

Over the past several years, ACLU Nebraska has received multiple complaints from both students and teachers in educational settings that require the Pledge. The complaints often come from students who report being “harassed” by school officials.

“Our public schools should be focused on education, not indoctrination,” said Miller. “We are pleased that most administrators respond quickly and appropriately when these types of complaints are made. We ask that school officials look into the guidance that we provided about this new rule so that the First Amendment rights of both teachers and students can be protected.”

While the ACLU has stated that nothing in the letter of the new rule violates the Constitution, it reminded superintendents that “those who recite the Pledge are celebrating the freedom of others not to do so.”

 

Treated Like a Second Class Citizen At Your Own Graduation

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ACLU Demands that Lakeview High Stop Subjecting Students to Religious Messages

Legal Director says current graduation practices make some students feel like “second-class participants.”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Thursday November 3, 2011

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

LINCOLN - On Thursday, ACLU Nebraska demanded that school officials at Lakeview High School in Columbus stop holding a high school graduation ceremony that subjects students to unconstitutional religious messages.

"The current ceremony coercively subjects students to religious messages as the price of attending high school commencement," said ACLU Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. "This leaves some students and their families feeling like second-class participants at their own graduation."

ACLU first began investigating practices at Lakeview High because of a complaint received from a local community member. Lakeview has claimed that their ceremony is now a "private graduation." It is clear from graduation materials provided by Lakeview High School to the ACLU, however, that the current graduation ceremony is private in name only.

"It is perfectly acceptable to have a truly private graduation ceremony as a supplement to the official, school-sponsored event," said ACLU Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. "What is happening at Lakeview High is a sham separation and therefore unconstitutional."

The ACLU informed Lakeview High School officials of the graduation ceremony’s unconstitutionality and the justification for a lawsuit should school officials fail to remove the unconstitutional messages from the ceremony. The existing graduation program features clergy-led prayers at the beginning and end of the graduation ceremony. 

ACLU Nebraska recently expressed support for a middle school student in Fremont whose right to express her Christianity was denied by school officials.

"Voluntary, student-led religious practices are protected by the Constitution and defended by the ACLU," said Miller. "The ACLU will continue to investigate and accept complaints from those impacted by unconstitutional policies that isolate and alienate members of our communities."

This August, ACLU established a confidential survey for individuals to provide information about potentially unconstitutional practices at Nebraska high schools. Those wishing to participate in the survey or make a complaint may do so by visiting www.aclunebraska.org.

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ABOUT: ACLU 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.

 

 

 

 

 

That gang of nuns looks pretty dangerous

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 3, 2011

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

ACLU Legal Director: Schools Cannot Interfere with Student Religious Expression

Fremont Public Schools Potentially Violated Student’s Religious Rights

LINCOLN - Recent news reports regarding Fremont Public School’s limitation on students wearing a rosary raise serious concerns about children’s religious liberty. ACLU Nebraska strongly opposes this policy on the grounds it violates the First Amendment’s guarantee to practice religion freely.

Amy Miller, ACLU Nebraska Legal Director, said "Students have the right to express their faith in public schools. Whether a student wants to wear a crucifix, a rosary, or another symbol, it is wrong for school officials to interfere. We understand the serious concerns about gangs in schools, but Fremont Public School should demonstrate there is a concrete gang connection before shutting down a student’s free speech and religious rights. ACLU Nebraska has and will continue to support the constitutional rights of religious people.”

A publication on Student’s Rights is available for download from the ACLU Nebraska website. Each year, ACLU Nebraska provides thousands of students with information on their rights through classroom and community presentations. http://www.aclunebraska.org/index.php/student-rights

Parents or students who feel their religious or free speech rights have been violated are encouraged to contact ACLU Nebraska online at www.aclunebraska.org.

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ABOUT: ACLU 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.

 
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