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Alliance Defending Freedom honored with human dignity award

Attorney sound bite:  Roger Kiska

UPPSALA, Sweden — The Scandinavian Human Rights Committee has awarded Alliance Defending Freedom the 2012 Scandinavian Human Dignity Award, saying that “the organization has truly become a global force and a great Scandinavian partner.”

The award “is presented to a person or an organization which has made a special contribution to human rights, all of which derive from the inherent dignity of the human person and are essential for his free and full development.”

“The protection of freedom, life, and family are essential to human dignity in any society. That’s what’s behind the work of Alliance Defending Freedom and why we are humbled to receive this award,” said Senior Legal Counsel Roger Kiska, who accepted the award at a ceremony Wednesday. “The work we do worldwide to protect and preserve religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and marriage and family is a great honor and responsibility. It’s a passion we would not be able to pursue without the many supporters who share this passion with us.”

Specifically, as noted on the award’s website, “The Scandinavian Human Rights Committee finds that Alliance Defending Freedom during the last years has encouraged action to overcome infringements of human rights in Europe and has promoted a greater understanding of and respect for human dignity. The battles fought in courts and legislatures to promote the dignity of the human person, the rights of conscience and other fundamental human rights make the organization worthy of the Scandinavian Human Dignity Award 2012.”

  • Pronunciation guide: Kiska (KISH’-kuh)
Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is an alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 

Rendering unto Caesar? Arizona church being taxed out of existence

Courthouse Rock, Eagletail Mts, La Paz County,...

Courthouse Rock, Eagletail Mts, La Paz County, Arizona (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Attorney sound bite:  Erik Stanley

PHOENIX — Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley will be available for media interviews following his oral argument Tuesday at the Arizona Court of Appeals in defense of a church facing an illegally assessed property tax bill that would force it to shut down.

“Churches shouldn’t live in fear of being punished or penalized by the government, but this church truly is in fear of losing everything because of the assessor’s unlawful actions,” said Stanley. “Even the Arizona Department of Revenue has provided a letter stating that the church should owe nothing in taxes for the years 2006 and later. The county has levied taxes anyway, so we have been forced to go to court to have this matter resolved.”

An Arizona Tax Court said the church should have paid the tax bill before challenging it as illegal; however, Stanley will argue on appeal that state law does not require the church to do so when it is challenging an illegally assessed tax so high that the congregation can’t pay the bill and ask for a refund later. The tax bill of roughly $50,000 is approximately equal to the church’s entire annual budget. Paying the tax before filing suit would have required the church to close its doors, sell off its assets, and end its ministry.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed suit against La Paz County in March 2011 after the state of Arizona agreed that the church does not owe the tax but the county nonetheless continued to assess it.

The bill has resulted in a tax lien on the church’s property which could result in foreclosure and an end to the church’s ministry, including its outreach to the needy–a program praised by the Quartzsite mayor, town manager, and police chief.

Under state law, the church qualified for an exemption from property taxes and filed the appropriate paperwork with the La Paz County property assessor. The assessor sat on the church’s paperwork for three years before granting a tax exemptionand then only granted it for the years 2009 and later, leaving the church with back-taxes for 2006-2008 that it should not owe.

Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is an alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

City of Duluth violates court order, reimposes First Amendment ban

Despite injunction, city again stops people from sharing their faith at ‘Tour of Lights’

Attorney sound bite:  Jon Scruggs

Flag of the city of Duluth, Minnesota (right),...

Flag of the city of Duluth, Minnesota (right), along with the United States flag (left) and the Minnesota state flag (center). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

, Minn. — The city of Duluth is ignoring a court order that prevents it from enforcing a First Amendment ban on people desiring to share their faith at a public park during the “Bentleyville Tour of Lights” event. The violation of the order prompted Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys to file an emergency motion Tuesday that asks the court to enforce its injunction and hold the city in contempt.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys obtained the order last year after the city prohibited people from peacefully talking with passers-by and handing out Christian literature at the 2010 Tour of Lights. Despite the court order, which lifted the ban at the public event, police again prevented people from engaging in faith-based expression Saturday.

“The government cannot ban the First Amendment in a public park just because event officials don’t like the message that a person is sharing,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, who is co-counsel in the case with Nate Kellum of the Center for Religious Expression. “The court ordered the city to respect the First Amendment, but it is not doing so. We are therefore asking the court to enforce its order and hold the city in contempt. It has disregarded both the court’s order and what the order sought to protect: the constitutionally protected freedom of citizens to engage in non-disruptive speech in a public place.”

Steve Jankowski and three friends went to the park to speak with passers-by and hand out Christian literature. Just as Jankowski’s friends began to do so, a police officer asked them to leave even though they were conducting themselves in a non-disruptive manner. Police told them that they could only engage in their free speech activities in a designated “First Amendment zone” outside of the event area. After being told they would be arrested for trespass if they didn’t move, the men willingly left the event.

In its order issued in December 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota prohibited the city from banning free speech: “If the governmental efforts to protect funeral attendees from inflammatory picketers cannot survive intermediate scrutiny,” the court wrote, referring to a 2011 federal appellate court decision in a different case, “it is unlikely that the City could justify restricting the Plaintiffs’ activities, which by all accounts, are peaceful and respectful.”

The city argues that the agreement between the city and the non-profit Tour of Lights has changed and therefore makes the court’s injunction null and void. The city waited more than a month–until just days before the 2012 Tour of Lights event–to disclose the new contract in a letter from assistant City Attorney Nathan LaCoursiere which stated that “it is the city’s position that the previous injunction issued in this matter no longer applies….”

“Clearly, the city should have sought to talk to us and the court about the injunction before violating it. The city’s improper actions do not change the fact that they have violated the First Amendment freedoms of these citizens,” Scruggs explained.

Minnesota attorneys Mark Peterson and Stan Zahorsky, two of nearly 2,200 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, are serving as local counsel in the case, Jankowski v. City of Duluth.

  • Video/audio of police ordering Christians to leave Bentleyville Tour of Lights despite court order (11/17/2012)
Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is an alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 

Christian school zoned out by Ohio city

Upper Arlington Municipal Center, Upper Arling...

Upper Arlington Municipal Center, Upper Arlington, Ohio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alliance Defending Freedom appeals ruling against school
Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Attorney sound bite:  Erik Stanley

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed an appeal today on behalf of Tree of Life Christian Schools against the city of Upper Arlington for refusing to grant the school a permit to use its own new building. In August, a federal judge issued an opinion finding against the school’s claims of discrimination under federal law.
“No city should use its zoning code to discriminate against a Christian school and keep its students in inferior and overcrowded facilities,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “A city’s zoning code cannot give preferential treatment to non-religious institutions that function similarly to a Christian school.”
Alliance Defending Freedom filed the initial lawsuit against Upper Arlington in January, 2011, when city officials refused to allow Tree of Life Christian Schools to apply for zoning approval after it purchased the former America Online/Time-Warner building. The lawsuit challenges a zoning regulation that prohibits schools within the zone but permits daycare facilities and other similar uses.
If approved, the building would allow the school to double in size and to consolidate its inferior and overcrowded campuses holding approximately 660 students in the Columbus area. The school would also provide more than 150 new jobs to the city, as well as tax revenue greater than what has been realized from the vacant site in many years.

Under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, government officials are barred from subjecting religious ministries to unequal treatment in zoning laws.

“Upper Arlington will allow other groups to occupy a building in this zone, but it won’t allow this school,” added Stanley. “Federal law specifically prohibits zoning officials from subjecting religious organizations to this type of unequal treatment.”
The appeal in Tree of Life Christian Schools v. City of Upper Arlington is to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.
Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is an alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 

Ga. church no longer meeting underground for now

Alliance Defense Fund

Alliance Defense Fund (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Court order temporarily paves way for small church
Monday, July 23, 2012

Attorney sound bites:  Erik Stanley #1  |  Erik Stanley #2  |  Erik Stanley #3

ATLANTA, Ga. Rockdale County agreed to a federal court injunctionissued Friday that allows a church to temporarily reconvene in a building where the county previously denied access because the property was less than three acres in size. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent the church in the case, which continues in federal court.“Government officials should not use zoning restrictions to close down religious services of small, start-up churches, so we commend the county for agreeing to a court order that allows this church to meet while the case moves forward,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “It’s unconstitutional and a violation of federal law to target churches with these kinds of zoning restrictions. Small ministries like this one shouldn’t be forced underground simply because they can’t afford a property of more than three acres.”

In June, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed suit against the county for refusing New Generation Christian Church access to several different properties for its worship services. The county’s zoning code restricts churches from meeting on property of less than three acres in any zoning district but does not similarly restrict other groups, including sports centers, day care centers, libraries, performing arts centers, recreational clubs, and educational institutions.

In May, the church requested permission to rent the vacant property they initially occupied, but the county again denied the request for the same reasons, forcing the congregation to meet in the inadequate basement of a jewelry store. As a small, start-up church, New Generation cannot afford to purchase or lease a property of three acres or more.

“Under the city’s rules, only non-religious groups and large, wealthy churches can find an adequate place to meet, and that just doesn’t make sense,” Stanley explained. “This is exactly why federal law protects churches from arbitrary and subjective zoning decisions. We hope the city will change its zoning regulations and eliminate the need to continue this case.”

The lawsuit argues that the zoning code violates the church’s free exercise of religion guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law which protects churches and religious groups from burdensome and discriminatory zoning law restrictions on their property use.

Atlanta attorney Craig Bertschi, one of more than 2,200 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, is serving as local counsel in the lawsuit, New Generation Christian Church v. Rockdale County, pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division.

Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is an alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

 
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Calif. student free of disciplinary hearing, but not of unconstitutional speech policy

Letter prompts Grossmont College to drop unfounded hearing against student, but policy change slow in coming
Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Attorney sound bites:  David Hacker #1  |  David Hacker #2

EL CAJON, Calif. — After receiving a letter from Alliance Defending Freedom, Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District has withdrawn a disciplinary hearing against a student for distributing religious fliers in the same location as students promoting non-religious activities on campus. However, the college district said it is not planning to revise the policy that led to the problem for another six months.

“The university is supposed to be the marketplace of ideas, not a place where free speech is a punishable offense,” said Legal Counsel

Grossmont College Library

Grossmont College Library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

. “We commend Grossmont College for dropping the unjustified disciplinary hearing against our client, but as the Constitution requires, the college still needs to take prompt action and change its vague distribution policy to prevent any future discrimination against faith-based groups and activities. We’ll be monitoring the situation to ensure that the necessary changes are made.”

In May, a student was denied the use of tables and chairs for the National Day of Prayer event a Christian club on campus was organizing, even though the club had made reservations in advance as stipulated by the school’s policy. When the student later distributed fliers for the event in front of the student center, the same location where other groups promoted non-religious activities, the associate dean instructed her to stop, citing college district policy. The college then took punitive action against the student by initiating a formal disciplinary hearing and placing an academic hold on the student’s account.

Grossmont’s policy “designates the District’s campuses as non-public forums” that do not allow freedom of speech for students except for limited areas subject to revocation at any time. The policy requires students “register with the Student Affairs Office prior to speaking, presenting, or distributing material.” The policy also requires students to register and receive permission to use college facilities or distribute fliers 10 business days in advance.

Alliance Defending Freedom’s letter explained that “federal courts in California and the Ninth Circuit have held that a college campus is a public forum” and that “students are permitted to engage in expressive activities on community college campuses.” Courts have struck down policies that are “designed to stifle and punish the exercise of First Amendment rights,” explains the letter, which concludes that “the District’s policies are not content-neutral because they allow administrators to regulate speech without any criteria restraining their decisions.”

“America’s colleges and universities should recognize the constitutionally protected rights of Christian students just as they do for all other students,” added Hacker. “Students of faith should not be penalized or discriminated against for expressing their beliefs. Grossmont College’s policy needs to reflect this so that students will have no fear of exercising their freedom of speech this fall.”

UCLA, Virginia Tech, and several other universities have recently made policy changes in response to Alliance Defending Freedom letters.

Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is an alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

 
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Alliance Defense Fund now Alliance Defending Freedom

Alliance Defense Fund

Alliance Defense Fund (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Monday, July 09, 2012

ADF attorney sound bite:  Alan Sears

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Alliance Defense Fund is changing its name to “Alliance Defending Freedom.”

“Our mission remains the same–defending religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family. Only our name has changed,” said Alliance Defending Freedom President, CEO, and General Counsel Alan Sears. “The change is to help more people easily understand the work that we do and why it matters.”

“The emphasis remains on the word ‘alliance,’” Sears explained. “Continuously building an alliance of attorneys and like-minded individuals and organizations is absolutely essential to our mission. ‘Defending Freedom’ communicates the essence of what the alliance does: legally defending and advocating for religious freedom.”

The new tagline is “For Faith, For Justice.” Alliance Defending Freedom and its allies work tirelessly to ensure that people everywhere can freely live a life of faith under laws that safeguard, rather than undermine, religious freedom.

 Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is an alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 

VA Tech changes discriminatory student fee policy

U.S. Supreme Court building.

U.S. Supreme Court building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ADF letter prompts university to strike policy language that excluded certain religious activities from funding
Thursday, July 05, 2012

ADF attorney sound bite:  Matt Sharp

BLACKSBURG, Va. — After receiving a legal memo from the Alliance Defense Fund, Virginia Tech has revised its student activity fee policy so that faith-based student groups can receive funding for religious worship and similar activities. Previously, faith-based groups were denied access to the funds for these activities even though all students are required to pay activity fees.

“The university is supposed to be the marketplace of ideas. America’s colleges and universities should recognize the constitutionally protected rights of religious students just as they do for all other students,” says ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Matt Sharp. “We commend Virginia Tech for taking prompt action to change its policy to allow funding for these important religious activities of faith-based student groups, as the Constitution requires.”

Virginia Tech’s Student Activity Fee Allocation Policies and Procedures originally stated that “[o]rganizations will not be provided funding to support religious worship or religious proselytizing.” After ADF informed the university that its policy violated the First Amendment, the university removed the restriction from its policies.

As the ADF letter states, Virginia Tech’s policy makes student fees “broadly available to a multitude of student groups expressing a virtually limitless range of views, yet bans the use of these funds for ‘religious worship or religious proselytizing.’” The letter explained that the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that “a public university must distribute these student fees in a manner that is consistent with First Amendment protections.”

Last year, ADF won a significant lawsuit at the University of Wisconsin in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit concluded that the university could not deny student activity fee funds to a Catholic student group on the grounds that the group held to a religious viewpoint.

The ADF letter concludes that “a public university should invite robust debate and dialogue on every conceivable issue, be open to the widest possible ideas and views, and adopt policies that encourage the fullest possible exercise of First Amendment freedoms.”

ADF sent the letter to Virginia Tech as part of its nationwide effort to change unconstitutional policies at public universities. Virginia Tech joins UCLA and several other universities that have made changes in response to ADF letters.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

 

Hope renewed: Weekend worship services will continue at NYC schools

Alliance Defense Fund

Alliance Defense Fund (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hope renewed: Weekend worship services will continue at NYC schools

Federal court issues permanent order protecting equal access rights
Friday, June 29, 2012

NEW YORK Alliance Defense Fund attorneys won a permanent injunction Friday that allows churches and other faith groups to continue to meet in New York City public school buildings for worship services after hours.

“Churches that have been helping communities for years can continue to offer the hope that empty buildings can’t,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence, who argued before the court on June 1. “The court’s order allows churches and other religious groups to meet for worship services in empty school buildings on weekends on the same terms as other groups. ADF will continue to defend this constitutionally protected right if the city chooses to continue using taxpayer money to evict the very groups that are selflessly helping the city’s communities, including the public schools themselves.”

Churches meeting in New York City public schools for worship services have fed the poor, have assisted in rehabilitating drug addicts and gang members, have helped rebuild marriages and families, and have provided for the disabled. The churches have also helped the public schools themselves by volunteering to paint the interiors of inner-city schools; donating computers, musical instruments, and air conditioners; and providing effective after-school programs to help all students with their studies.

“There is no reason to exclude worship services from these empty school buildings, especially when the school allows all other community groups to meet,” Lorence explained. “Why exclude churches that are helping their neighbors in so many significant ways?”

In February, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a preliminary order that allowed Bronx Household of Faith and other religious groups to conduct worship services in schools while the ADF lawsuit against the city proceeded. The new order makes the preliminary order permanent.

The permanent injunction is part of a 17-year legal battle in Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York. The city has been trying to eject worship services from their public school meeting places under the claim that their presence violates the U.S. Constitution, but the court Friday disagreed with the city’s policy, Chancellor’s Regulation D-180.

“Having considered the latest evidence and the parties’ respective arguments, the Court determines that its reasons for granting Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction were sound and that implementation of Ch. Reg. D-180 violates both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause…,” the court’s order states. “Defendants are permanently enjoined from enforcing Ch. Reg. D180 so as to deny Plaintiffs’ application or the application of any similarly-situated individual or entity to rent space in the Board’s public schools for meetings that include religious worship.”

  • Pronunciation guide: Name Lorence (LOHR’-ents)
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.
 

4th Circuit: No government-controlled speech at Md. pregnancy resource centers

Baltimore City Hall

Baltimore City Hall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Court affirms strike-down of Baltimore and Montgomery County ordinances
Thursday, June 28, 2012

ADF attorney sound bite:  Matt Bowman

RICHMOND, Va. — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit affirmed Wednesday that laws in Baltimore and Montgomery County, Md. that force pregnancy resource centers to post signs discouraging women from using their services are unconstitutional. Alliance Defense Fund attorneys represent a pregnancy resource center in the Montgomery County case and filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case involving the Baltimore law.

“Pregnancy centers offer real help and hope to women. They should be free to share that message instead of being compelled to provide the government’s preferred message, which sends women elsewhere,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “Pregnancy centers provide women with the emotional support and practical resources they need, giving them more choices. They should not be made to speak negatively about the important services they provide. The 4th Circuit was right to rule against that in both of these cases.”

In Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County, the court upheld a district court’s decision that struck down most of the county’s ordinance and reversed the district court on the one section of the ordinance that it didn’t strike down, concluding that “it still amounts to an impermissible government control of speech.”

Mark Rienzi, an ADF-allied attorney and a law professor at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, argued before the court as lead counsel for Centro Tepeyac in March. Bowman served as co-counsel in the Montgomery County lawsuit as did attorneys Bob Michael and John Garza, two of more than 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance.

ADF attorneys filed suit against the county on behalf of Centro Tepeyac in May 2010. The suit concerned a new law that made “limited-service pregnancy centers” and individuals who have a “primary purpose” of offering information about pregnancy face steep fines if they do not post signs saying the county believes women should see a health care professional.

In 2011 in Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, ADF together with the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the 4th Circuit on behalf of three pro-life medical associations concerned about Baltimore’s law, which was similar to Montgomery County’s. ADF-allied attorney law professors with approximately 20 of their colleagues also filed a brief in opposition to the law.

ADF attorneys have filed two additional lawsuits involving such laws: one against New York City and the other against Austin, Texas. A federal court halted New York City’s law in July of last year.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

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