In 1985, an ACLU of Nebraska religious freedom case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The 4-4 decision that was handed down is familiar to today’s court watchers as the U.S. Supreme Court awaits the appointment of a ninth justice.
Frances J. Quaring was a Christian who believed strongly in the Biblical second commandment’s proscription against graven images. She would remove the images of sports celebrities from boxes of Wheaties before bringing them into her home. She also believed that taking an image for a driver’s license would be a violation of her religious commandments.
Longtime partner, the law firm of Bauer, Galter & Geier (now Bartle & Geier) has partnered with the ACLU on many cases, including Frances’ case.
Frances did attend a church, but didn’t consider herself part of an organized religion. She came to her interpretation of the second commandment based on her own reading of the Bible.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which governs Nebraska, held that even with a legitimate state purpose of public safety, it would be a violation of Frances’ religious rights to require her to have a photo on her driver’s license.
When the case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, a 4-4 decision came down due to an illness with one of the justices. While the decision kept the 8th Circuit ruling and Frances’ victory, it meant that the decision did not necessarily apply to other cases.
In today’s court, we are also seeing 4-4 decisions due to a vacancy. This means that many important civil rights cases may need another day in court for clear decisions nationwide.
2016 is the 50th anniversary of the ACLU of Nebraska. We will feature several memories from our five decades of defending freedom in the Cornhusker state here. Do you have a favorite memory? Share it with us!