Few things are as fundamental to our national – and personal – understanding of what it means to be an American as the right to speak freely, to publicly assemble, and to petition our government for redress of the things that matter most to us. Protected by the First Amendment, and hallowed by more than 200 years of cherished history, those freedoms run to the depths of the American soul – and yet are being challenged, daily, in courtrooms all over this country.
Three particular instances from the last few weeks illustrate the crucial part Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys continue to play in defending this freedom … and the challenges we face as we stand on behalf of individuals like you and your family throughout the nation.
Recent events in Houston – where that city’s leaders put into effect a law allowing members of each sex access to the other gender’s public restrooms, despite public safety concerns and overwhelming opposition from local citizens – have prompted other officials in other communities around the country to consider passing similar measures. Thankfully, many, from Anchorage, Alaska to Fayetteville, Arkansas and Jacksonville, Florida have chosen not to do so.
Whether the civic leaders of Glendale, Arizona – soon to play host to this year’s Super Bowl – will have the same courage to resist such demands remains to be seen. Under political pressure from activist groups ONE Community and Human Rights Campaign, city officials have been mulling their own restroom measure. They temporarily postponed a formal decision in a meeting earlier this month, citing the need to learn more about the issue. ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley, himself a resident of Glendale, has written a formal letter to the city council, encouraging members not to repeat Houston’s error by circumventing a public vote on the ordinance.
“Citizens should always have a say on laws that could greatly affect them and their families,” says Stanley. “The Glendale City Council was right not to pass this ordinance without taking into account the concerns of its citizens and the serious ramifications for religious freedom. Other cities in the nation have found such ordinances unnecessary, and we hope Glendale will reach the same conclusion after further research.” The council will reconsider the issue on January 27.
But it’s not just government officials who are exerting themselves to censor public speech and community action. In Montgomery, Pennsylvania, the owners of a sexually-oriented business recently took legal action to block Christian sidewalk counselors outside their facility. Representatives of “The King’s Men,” a Christian non-profit organization dedicated to developing men as “leaders, protectors, and providers,” began initiating conversations with people on the public sidewalk outside a local porn shop and on adjoining private property (with the owner’s permission).
When police refused to interfere in what the counselors were doing, the corporate owners of the shop filed a lawsuit, which a federal court dismissed earlier this month.
“This is not only a victory for The King’s Men, but for all Americans who cherish our freedom to speak on matters of public concern without the fear of being censored,” says Independence Law Center attorney Randall Wenger, who – along with lead counsel Jeff Conrad and attorney Emily Bell – is among the more than 2,500 private attorneys allied with ADF. “Americans should not have to stand trial for exercising their freedom of speech in a public area.”
Fired For Faith
And yet, in Atlanta, one of that city’s most acclaimed public servants is being punished for exactly that. Former Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired by the City of Atlanta after Cochran published a Christian book that included, in one chapter, a statement of the biblical teaching that sex is reserved exclusively for marriage, the union of one man and one woman.
When a group of activists expressed outrage at that statement, government officials suspended Cochran for 30 days, required him to complete a mandated conformity program, and ordered an investigation. Although the investigators found Cochran not guilty of discrimination (and despite the fact that the city had given him permission to publish the book) he was fired anyway – citing, with incredible irony, the need to tolerate diverse views.
“The city fired him for nothing other than his faith, and that’s not constitutional,” says ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, one of our staff and allied attorneys now representing Cochran “We are currently assessing the legal options available to vindicate his rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.”
Please be in prayer for these cases, and so many like them unfolding even now all over the country, with far-reaching implications for your own family’s religious liberty and freedom of speech. May God give us grace to preserve these precious freedoms – and wisdom to use them for His glory.