The following is an addendum to my earlier post concerning Christians who send “selfie” photo cards at Christmas. In it I mentioned the ongoing, and unprecedented, attacks on Christian Americans who wish to express their faith in public and/or on “public” property.
The attached article is from the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and it will give Christians hope for the future of Christian America.
Chief Counsel, and founder of ACLJ, Jay Sekulow, is an extremely talented attorney who has dedicated his life to the defense of Christian values and traditions. His organization not only defends Christians from illegal attacks by non-Christians in America, but around the world, as well.
Below is one of ACLJ’s success stories. It concerns the underhanded, and subversive, efforts of two more, influential non-Christians, who publicly promoted profound religious intolerance towards Christians (and their legal right to freedom of speech and religious liberty) as Trustees of the Village of Greenport, NY and, the ACLJ’s successful efforts to thwart them.
Inevitably, the vocal proponents of religious intolerance for Christians prove to be radical, second-wave feminists, and/or, lapsed Catholics. Two groups that have historically been brainwashed by their mentors to hate Protestants for a fictitious, or an ancient, affront.
The Greenport case centers around one of each – Trustee Julia Robins (radical second-wave feminist, single mother and carpenter) and Trustee David Murray (lapsed Catholic?).
The following is a snippet from the transcript of the Board of Trustee’s meeting where the members discussed a permit application from Lamb’s Chapel to use Greenport’s public park (Mitchell Park) for a religiously themed event.
TRUSTEE (Julia) ROBINS: I don’t feel that that’s
an appropriate use of the park, by the way. I’d
like to go on the record as saying that.
TRUSTEE (David) MURRAY: What is it? Again, what
are they going to be —
CLERK SYLVIA PIRILLO: It’s a religious
TRUSTEE (David) MURRAY: Well, I think there needs
to be a policy to be able to say no to this
stuff, I mean, instead of —
TRUSTEE (Julia) ROBINS: I think it’s an
inappropriate use of the park. I’m sorry.
TRUSTEE MURRAY: And I think we’ve talked
TRUSTEE (Mary Bess) PHILLIPS: Yes, we have, but —
TRUSTEE MURRAY: We need some type of
standards, and some of these should just say — Sylvia should be able to say no
At first, the trustees postponed the vote on the permit application. But when they met again, they voted 4-1 to deny (without explanation) the Lamb’s Chapel’s request to use the park. The only member who voted to approve the church’s permit application was Mayor David Nyce.
Little did this current batch of trustees realize, but this same Lamb had been defended twenty years earlier, by a Lion and that Lion had become fiercer with time. Almost immediately, they felt his breath on their necks.
Enjoy this modern-day scenario, based on the biblical story, The Lion and the Lamb.
Victory: Lamb’s Chapel Wins Again
Turn back the clock to just over twenty years ago, 1993 to be exact. On February 3 of that year, ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in the groundbreaking free speech case, Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches School District. (Listen to the full argument here). Four months later, the Supreme Court unanimously held that the school district violated Lamb’s Chapel’s First Amendment rights in not allowing the church to use school property to present films on family values from a religious perspective. (Read the decision here.) Since that time, the decision in Lamb’s Chapel has been used, cited, and invoked in countless state and federal cases as protecting against government restrictions on speech based on its religious viewpoint.
Now, back to the present. In March of this year, Lamb’s Chapel Christian Ministry (yes, the very same Lamb’s Chapel) submitted a permit application to the Village of Greenport, New York to use Mitchell Park — a public park — for a community, religious event. For the past two and half years, the Village has granted permits to a variety of groups to hold various events in Mitchell Park: a children’s concert, a celebration of Greek culture, an art show, a maritime festival, a sailing competition, a fishing tournament, ballroom dancing, and so forth.
In light of these diverse uses of the park — not to mention the fact it is a public park, a quintessential public forum for speech activities — one would have thought Lamb’s Chapel permit would be granted, no questions asked. Unfortunately, no. When Lamb’s Chapel’s permit application was first discussed at a work session of the Village’s Board of Trustees, the discussion that ensued was a little startling. One trustee said, “I don’t feel it’s an appropriate use of the Park.” Yet another stated, “I think there needs to be a policy to be able to say no to this stuff.” According to the minutes of that meeting, not one Village official raised or even mentioned the fact that Lamb’s Chapel’s freedom of speech might be at stake.
At the next meeting of the Board, the mayor and a trustee indicated there was some “concern” about Lamb’s Chapel’s event, but neither elaborated on what this “concern” involved. The Board concluded its meeting without deciding whether to grant the permit — though the Board did vote that night to allow a wedding and an art show to be held in Mitchell Park later this summer.
On April 28, the Board made its final decision. With no discussion at all, it voted 4-1 to deny Lamb’s Chapel’s right to use the park. (The Village’s mayor was the only one to vote in favor of granting the permit.) When the Village returned the application to Lamb’s Chapel’s pastor, the word “Denied” was checked and no explanation was provided as to why the application was denied.
As it did over twenty years ago, Lamb’s Chapel sought our legal assistance.
We wrote a letter to the Village attorney explaining how and why the Village’s decision violated the First Amendment’s right to free speech — and clearly so. We indicated that unless the Village reconsidered its April 28 decision and grant Lamb’s Chapel’s permit application, we would file suit in federal court and seek immediate injunctive relief. As we wrote in that letter:
There can be little doubt that the Board’s denial of Lamb’s Chapel’s
application to use Mitchell Park was based on the religious content of Lamb’s Chapel’s proposed speech activity (if not the religious identity of Lamb’s Chapel
itself), and not because of any content-neutral factors . . . .
Because it is impossible to fathom how the Village can have a compelling interest in suppressing the religious content of speech in a quintessential, traditional public forum, the decision to deny Lamb’s Chapel use of Mitchell Park for a religious event was a clear violation of its right to free speech . . . .
The government cannot control a public park like a private citizen can control his backyard, allowing others to use it or not, willy-nilly. Rules and ordinances governing public parks are meant to allow for the orderly use of such public places, not to allow the review and censorship of who may speak or what they might say. If there is one area of First Amendment law that is clear, unquestionable, and well-established, it is this.
Given our previous representation of Lamb’s Chapel, we couldn’t help but note that, “it is quite extraordinary, to say the least, that over twenty years after the U.S. Supreme Court vindicated the right of Lamb’s Chapel to engage in free speech activity in a limited public forum, Lamb’s Chapel’s right to speech in a traditional public forum is being denied.”
I am pleased to say that our letter to the Village has resulted in a complete victory for Lamb’s Chapel’s right to use Mitchell Park for its July 17 event. (As discussed here, this isn’t the first time we’ve had to intervene on behalf of a church wishing to engage in religious activity in a public park.) In a special meeting of the Board, convened after we sent our letter, the Board voted to approve Lamb’s Chapel’s permit application. In addition, at this same special meeting, the Board granted a permit to another church, whose request to hold a youth Christian concert was previously denied.
While we believe the initial decision of the Board to deny Lamb’s Chapel’s permit was wrong and unconstitutional, we applaud the Village’s decision to take corrective action in light of the law and our intervention.
What this situation demonstrates, as does the church free speech matter described here, is that while the equal access rights of churches have been by and large settled (though a recent federal court of appeals decision on this issue remains very much in error), we must be vigilant in ensuring that government officials respect these rights. It is one thing for a court of law to say what the law requires — even when it’s the U.S Supreme Court — but without churches like Lamb’s Chapel willing to step forward when their rights have been violated, these decisions are nothing more than words on a page.
We were proud to stand with Lamb’s Chapel before the Supreme Court in 1993 and we are proud to stand with Lamb’s Chapel today.
If you’d like to make a donation to the American Center for Law and Justice, click here – ACLJ.org. They operate primarily on donations. All donations are tax deductible. kqd