In a legal challenge that has been underway for years, the ACLJ represents a state judge in Ohio who has a poster of the Ten Commandments displayed in his courtroom as part of an exhibit on legal philosophy. The ACLJ has filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the Supreme Court, asking the high Court to overturn a ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that the display is unconstitutional. The ACLJ argues that the ACLU does not have legal standing to sue and that the decision below conflicts with Supreme Court precedent recognizing with approval the role of religion in society.
An atheist group challenged the erection of Latin crosses on public property that display the Highway Patrol logo and other identifying information to commemorate Utah Highway Patrol officers who died in the line of duty. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that these crosses violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. This case has been appealed to the Supreme Court. The ACLJ has filed an amicus brief urging the high Court to hear the case, citing the words of Justice Kennedy in Salazar v. Buono, 130 S. Ct. 1803, 1818-1819 (2010) (plurality): "A cross by the side of a public highway marking, for instance, the place where a state trooper perished need not be taken as a statement of governmental support for sectarian beliefs."
The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed suit against two New Hampshire school districts, challenging the voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and, specifically, the words “under God” in the Pledge. In Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Hanover School District, 626 F. 3d 1 (1st Cir. 2010), the First Circuit held that the New Hampshire School Patriot Act, which required the state’s public schools to authorize a period of time each day for students to voluntarily recite the Pledge of Allegiance, was constitutional. Following the defeat, the FFRF petitioned the First Circuit for either a panel rehearing or a rehearing en banc; and on December 28, 2010, both petitions were denied. FFRF filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the Supreme Court on April 7, 2011, and the ACLJ filed an amicus brief in opposition to certiorari on May 6, 2011. The Supreme Court denied the FFRF's petition in June of 2011.
The Chamber of Commerce, among others, with the support of the Obama Administration, challenged the implementation of an Arizona immigration law, the Legal Arizona Workers Act, which authorizes the state to revoke or suspend the business license of an Arizona employer who “knowingly” employs illegal aliens. The ACLJ filed an amicus brief in support of the Arizona law. In a 5-3 decision, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the high Court agreed with the ACLJ’s argument and held that Arizona’s licensing law, requiring all Arizona employers to verify the immigration status of all employees through the federal government’s E-Verify system or risk losing their state business license, fell “well within the confines of the authority Congress chose to leave to the States and therefore is not expressly preempted.”
The Supreme Court granted review to determine the constitutionality of the Arizona tuition tax credit. The ACLJ filed an amicus brief defending the tax credit and arguing that the challenge should be dismissed for want of standing to sue. The Supreme Court agreed that the challenge must be rejected for want of standing.
The ACLJ filed an amicus brief in support of the constitutionality of the Mohave Desert cross on Sunrise Rock. Our argument focused on the illegitimacy of “offended observer standing” under Article III standing doctrine. The Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision that had invalidated a federal law that preserved a federal veteran’s memorial by ensuring that it would become privately owned. A three-judge plurality held that standing was not an issue properly before the Court, but on the merits, that the lower courts’ analysis of the secular purpose and effect of Congress’ actions was incorrect. Two other Justices believed that the Plaintiff lacked standing.
The ACLJ supported Petitioners in persuading the Supreme Court that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution applies to the individual States. The high Court held that the right of the individual to “keep and bear arms” protected by the Second Amendment is incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and applies to the States.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission acted within its statutory power when the regulatory agency declared as indecent the broadcast of expletives from a nationally-televised awards show. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled against the FCC, saying its decision was wrong and it overstepped its authority. The FCC asked the high Court to overturn the lower court decision. The ACLJ represented itself and 18 Members of Congress with its amicus brief filed at the high Court. The brief supported the FCC's position and contended that the indecency policy affords children greater protection from the harm associated by exposure to indecent material without infringing on the constitutional rights of adults.
This case mirrors the First Amendment issues raised in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear Pleasant Grove, it followed our request to hold this companion case from Utah involving Duchesne City. After the Supreme Court issued its unanimous ruling on our behalf in Pleasant Grove, the high Court on March 2, 2009 issued an order granting the ACLJ’s Petition for Writ of Certiorari in the case of Duchesne City v. Summum, vacating the judgment in the case, and remanding it to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit for further consideration in light of the Pleasant Grove decision.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a landmark First Amendment ruling on February 25, 2009 clearing the way for governments to accept permanent monuments of their choosing in public parks. The decision comes in the case of Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, a critical First Amendment case in which the ACLJ represented the Utah city in a challenge to a display of the Ten Commandments in a city park. ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow presented oral arguments to the high Court on November 12, 2008. The ACLJ asked the high Court to overturn a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit that ordered Pleasant Grove City, UT, to accept and display a monument from a self-described church called "Summum" because the city displays a Ten Commandments monument donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. Sekulow successfully argued that the lower court ruling was flawed - a ruling that said private parties have a First Amendment right to put up the monuments of their choosing in a city park, unless the city takes away all other donated monuments - a ruling that runs counter to well-established precedent that the government has to be neutral toward private speech, but it does not have to be neutral in its own speech.
By a vote of 7-2, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the PROTECT Act of 2003 - federal legislation that provides prosecutors with another tool to combat the pandering or promotion of child pornography. The ACLJ filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court representing itself and 18 Members of Congress, including several co-sponsors of the Act. The brief supported the government's position and urged the high Court to uphold the constitutionality of the measure. In the majority opinion, Justice Scalia concluded: “In sum, we hold that offers to provide or requests to obtain child pornography are categorically excluded from the First Amendment.” The high Court decision overturns a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which declared a provision of the Act unconstitutional. ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow called the Supreme Court decision "a very sound and reasoned decision that is long overdue."
With a vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court on June 26, 2008, upheld the rights of gun owners in a Second Amendment case. The case involved a ban on handguns by the District of Columbia. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion overturning that ban. Examining the words of the Second Amendment, the Court concluded that "we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation." The ACLJ filed an amicus brief in the case, asking the high Court to uphold the lower court ruling that declared the DC gun ban unconstitutional. The ACLJ urged the high Court to overturn the ban, saying "the Second Amendment expressly secures the right of individual citizens of the United States to keep and bear arms for private purposes."
In a 5-4 decision issued June 25, 2007, the Supreme Court loosened limits on election advertising saying a pro-life group should have been permitted to air ads in the final months leading up to a 2004 election. In the consolidated cases of FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life (No. 06-969) and McCain v. Wisconsin Right to Life (No. 06-970), the high Court concluded that a key provision of a campaign finance law violated the group's First Amendment rights and unreasonably limits speech. In an amicus brief filed with the high Court on behalf of itself and Focus on the Family, a non-profit religious corporation committed to strengthening the family, the ACLJ urged the high Court to remove the prohibition of grassroots lobbying organization from taking part in issue advertising leading up to an election. In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts cited the Brief of the ACLJ in support of the issue advocacy ads being allowed to air with in the 30- and 60-day periods. While the Justices stopped short of overturning the troubling provision, it did acknowledge that the pro-life speech in this case was wrongfully censored.
In a 5-4 decision on June 25, 2007, the Supreme Court turned away a federal lawsuit by church-state separationists challenging the use of taxpayer dollars to fund a program of President Bush's faith-based initiative. The Court ruled that the separationists had no legal standing to bring the suit. The ACLJ filed an amicus brief with the high Court in support of the federal government’s position which prevailed. The ACLJ said the decision represents a significant victory and sends a powerful message that atheists and others who are antagonistic to religion do not get an automatic free pass to bring Establishment Clause lawsuits.
On April 18, 2007, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the national ban on partial-birth abortions with a 5-4 decision. Congress had approved a national ban on the procedure. The law was challenged in three separate cases in the federal court system in Nebraska, New York, and California. In all three cases, the ban was declared unconstitutional. The high Court reviewed the case out of Nebraska, along with a separate one from California. The ACLJ, which has been involved in defending the national ban since its passage by Congress, supported the government's position defending the ban, and represented nearly 80 Members of Congress and more than 320,000 Americans in an amicus brief filed with the high Court. This case was decided on April 18, 2007, with the Supreme Court upholding the federal ban on partial-birth abortion.
On April 18, 2007, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the national ban on partial-birth abortions with a 5-4 decision. This was a companion case involving the ban on partial-birth abortion that the high Court had agreed to hear. Congress had approved a national ban on the procedure. The law was challenged in three separate cases in the federal court system in Nebraska, New York, and California. In all three cases, the ban was declared unconstitutional. The high Court first agreed to hear this case out of California, along with the lead case from Nebraska. The ACLJ, which has been involved in defending the national ban since its passage by Congress, supported the government's position defending the ban in an amicus brief filed with the high Court, questioning the safety of abortion. This case was decided on April 18, 2007, with the Supreme Court upholding the federal ban on partial-birth abortion.
ACLJ filed an amicus brief supporting a request to Justice Kennedy to stay the removal of the memorial cross at Mount Soledad, California, pending review by lower federal and state appeals courts. He agreed to stay the district court’s order to remove the cross to allow the two appeals to proceed.
The Supreme Court granted review to determine the validity of the federal regulatory ban on using controlled substances for assisted suicide in Oregon. The ACLJ filed an amicus brief defending the ban against a federal constitutional Commerce Clause attack. The Supreme Court, by a vote of 6-3, invalidated the ban as exceeding the Department of Justice’s power under the relevant federal statute, and did not reach the constitutional arguments.
The Supreme Court granted review to determine the constitutionality of the New Hampshire parental notification law for abortion for minors. The ACLJ filed an amicus brief defending the ban against an asserted need for a “health” exception. The Supreme Court decided that a federal appeals court went too far in striking down New Hampshire's parental notification law in its entirety and sent the case back down for further consideration. The high Court issued its unanimous decision on January 18, 2006.
On February 28, 2006, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of pro-life demonstrators and organizations bringing an end to a nearly 20-year-old legal marathon involving a federal racketeering statute used against pro-life demonstrators. The high Court ruled that the actions of the pro-life demonstrators fell outside the scope of the federal Hobbs Act and, therefore, the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute - a law designed to combat drug dealers and organized crime. In its decision, the high Court ordered the lower courts to enter a ruling in favor of the pro-life demonstrators and organizations, bringing an end to a case. ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow represented Operation Rescue and served as Counsel of Record in the case.
By a vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court on June 27, 2005 overturned a federal appeals court clearing the way for the constitutional display of thousands of monuments that have been in place across America. The decision came in a case in Texas where the Fraternal Order of Eagles donated a Ten Commandments monument which has been in place outside the state capitol in Austin since 1961. The ACLJ filed an amicus brief at the high Court asking the Justices to overturn a lower court decision declaring the monument unconstitutional. In its decision, the high Court said the Eagles monument was constitutionally permissible.
By a vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court on June 27, 2005, upheld a lower court decision declaring the posting of copies of the Ten Commandments in the courthouses of two Kentucky counties to be unconstitutional. The ACLJ filed amicus briefs in support of the constitutionality of the displays which were declared unconstitutional by a federal district and federal appeals courts.
The Supreme Court on June 28, 2005, declined to take the ACLJ case out of Ohio where a poster of the Ten Commandments inside the courtroom of state Judge James DeWeese was declared unconstitutional. The lower court decision declaring the poster unconstitutional stands.
The Supreme Court on June 28, 2005, declined to take a case out of Ohio where the ACLJ represented the Adams County School Board, which was sued for permitting a local ministerial association to erect monuments that contain the Ten Commandments on school property. After suit was filed, the Board changed the display into a Foundations of American Law and Government display which includes several other influential texts. A federal district court ruled in favor of the ACLU, and that decision was upheld by a federal appeals court. The high Court declined to take the case and the lower court decision stands.
The ACLJ asked the Supreme Court to take a case involving pro-life demonstrators whose constitutional rights were violated when they were arrested for expressing their pro-life views on public property in Kansas City, Missouri. The ACLJ, which represented five demonstrators, asked the high Court to take the case and overturn an appeals court decision that determined the city acted properly in stifling the free speech of the demonstrators. In March 2005, the Justices declined to take the case, letting the lower court ruling stand.
Representing more than 260,000 Americans and nearly 70 Members of Congress, the ACLJ filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of the constitutionality of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Supreme Court rejected the legal challenge to the Pledge, saying Michael Newdow did not have legal standing to bring the case and removed the federal appeals court ruling that declared the Pledge unconstitutional.
The ACLJ filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court supporting the position of the Department of Justice that the detainees being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are unlawful enemy combatants that are being held in accordance with U.S. and applicable international law. The high Court ruled that the President has authority to hold the detainees, while at the same time ruling the detainees must have access to the U.S. court system.
The ACLJ filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court asking the high Court to uphold a federal appeals court decision that found the government acted properly in detaining Yaser Hamdi, an American citizen seized on the battlefield in Afghanistan who was classified as an enemy combatant. In a mixed decision, the high Court held that the American terror suspect had a right to challenge his detention in U.S. courts, and the plurality held that Congress had authorized his detention.
The ACLJ filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court asking the high Court to determine that President Bush acted appropriately when he made a decision to hold Jose Padilla, an American citizen seized on U.S. soil as a terrorism suspect, as an enemy combatant in a military brig in South Carolina. The ACLJ represented its two affiliate organizations in this case: The European Centre for Law and Justice, an organization that deals with human rights issues in Europe and based in Strasbourg, France, and the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice, a human rights organization based in Moscow, Russia. The Supreme Court threw the case out for lack of jurisdiction, holding that Padilla had brought suit against the wrong party.
This case involved the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), passed by Congress to protect minors from pornography on the Internet. The ACLJ filed an amicus brief on behalf of 13 Members of Congress, including one of the co-sponsors of COPA in the House, Rep. Ernest Istook, Jr. In its 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court sent the COPA case back to a lower court for trial. At the same time, the high Court declined to declare it constitutional and left intact an injunction preventing COPA from taking effect.
The ACLJ sued a school district in Arizona on behalf of Joseph Hills, asserting that Hills had a right to distribute fliers for his summer camp – which included religious elements - through the public school's literature distribution program on the same basis as did other summer camps. The district court rejected Hills’s claim, but ACLJ attorneys successfully obtained a reversal at the Ninth Circuit court of appeals. The ACLJ then successfully defended that appellate court ruling against an attempt by the school district to obtain Supreme Court review.
ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments in Locke v. Davey, a case involving the free exercise rights of a college student who was denied a state scholarship because he declared his major to be pastoral studies. The majority decision determined that Washington's policy prohibiting state scholarship funds from being used to assist students who pursue a degree in religious studies from a religious perspective is constitutional. However, the decision does not prohibit states from restructuring scholarship programs to permit the pursuit of a degree in devotional theology.
The Supreme Court granted review to determine the constitutionality of the Texas ban on homosexual sodomy. The ACLJ filed an amicus brief defending the ban against Equal Protection and Substantive Due Process Clause attacks. The Supreme Court invalidated the ban and created a new constitutional right to extramarital sexual acts.
After six years of litigation, the ACLJ was successful in protecting the constitutional rights of a group of citizens who applied to use a public park in Arizona for a National Day of Prayer Event. After the Supreme Court issued a decision in a separate, unrelated case, the high Court granted our petition and vacated an appeals court ruling against our client – ordering the trial court to reconsider the case based on the Supreme Court’s decision in the Good News Club case. The trial court finally held that the city of Tucson’s discriminatory treatment of our client must end – ruling that the city’s action infringed upon our client’s right to equal access to a public park.
At the urging of the ACLJ, the Supreme Court refused to take this case – leaving intact a federal appeals court ruling that a school district in Washington State violated the constitutional rights of our client, Tausha Prince, a high school sophomore, who was denied equal access to school facilities in setting up a student Bible club.
The Supreme Court determined that the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute (RICO) – a federal statute targeting drug dealers and organized crime – could not be used against pro-life demonstrators for their nonviolent protests. ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow served as Counsel of Record for Operation Rescue in this case. The Supreme Court concluded that pro-life demonstrators were not racketeers engaged in extortion and that the RICO statute could not be used against them.
ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments on behalf of a group of minors who were prohibited from contributing to political campaigns. The Supreme Court unanimously held that minors cannot be prohibited from participating in political campaigns. The Court held unequivocally that “minors enjoy the protection of the First Amendment.”
The ACLJ filed an amicus brief in support of a private, community-based Christian youth organization that was denied access to use of a school facility because of the religious nature of the meetings. The school’s community use policy opened Milford Central School facilities to a broad spectrum of "social, civic, and recreational meetings and entertainment events," but expressly prohibited use "by any individual or organization for religious purposes." Agreeing with the ACLJ’s argument, the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, held that by “discriminat[ing] against the Club because of its religious viewpoint,” the school’s “restriction violates the Club's free speech rights and that no Establishment Clause concern justifies that violation."
The ACLU sued a school district and various state officials in Alabama and won an overbroad injunction in which the school was ordered not to permit certain student religious speech. ACLJ attorneys, representing the Attorney General of Alabama, appealed and had the injunction thrown out at the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The ACLJ then successfully defended that ruling against two successive attempts by the ACLU to obtain Supreme Court review.
ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments in a case involving the constitutionality of student-led prayer at high school sporting events. The Supreme Court held that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits school officials from taking affirmative steps to facilitate prayer at school functions such as school football games. The Court found that the school district “failed to divorce itself from the religious content in the invocations.” The court did conclude however that "nothing in the Constitution as interpreted by this Court prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the schoolday."
ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments in a case centering on a Colorado law that restricted free speech activity outside abortion clinics. The Supreme Court upheld the law as constituional time, place, and manner restrictions, noting: "Although the statute prohibits speakers from approaching unwilling listeners, it does not require a standing speaker to move away from anyone passing by. Nor does it place any restriction on the content of any message that anyone may wish to communicate to anyone else, either inside or outside the regulated areas.”
The Supreme Court granted review to determine the constitutionality of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The ACLJ filed an amicus brief defending the RFRA against an Establishment Clause attack. The Supreme Court invalidated the RFRA as to state and local governments only, but did not do so on Establishment Clause grounds. (Subsequent cases have confirmed that the Establishment Clause does not prohibit laws like the RFRA.)
ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments before the Supreme Court in a case that focused on the constitutionality of “floating” speech-free “bubble zones” around abortion clinics. The Court agreed with Sekulow that the “floating buffer zones” were an unconstitutional restriction on the free speech rights of pro-life demonstrators.
An abortion business in Florida obtained a speech-restrictive injunction against pro-life picketers and sidewalk counselors. After the Supreme Court of Florida upheld the injunction, and the Supreme Court of the United States granted the petition for review by one group of defendants, the ACLJ filed an amicus brief on behalf of three other defendants attacking the injunction on free speech grounds. The Supreme Court issued a mixed decision, striking down some parts of the injunction and upholding others.
ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments in a case upholding the equal access rights of religious organizations in their use of public school facilities after-hours. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that the school district’s prohibition of the church’s use of school facilities, solely because of the religious content of its speech, was an unconstitutional restriction on the members’ free speech rights.
ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments twice in a case determining whether pro-life demonstrators could be sued under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that the 120-year-old anti-discrimination law did not apply to pro-life demonstrators, because for that law to apply, there must be a “class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus [underlying] the conspirators’ action.” The Court found that there was absolutely no evidence of animus against women, but that they “share[d] a deep commitment to the goals of stopping the practice of abortion and reversing its legalization.”
ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow served as co-counsel in a case involving the constitutionality of distributing literature at airport terminals. The Supreme Court held that an airport regulation banning distribution of literature was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. In a related case, ISKCON v. Lee, the high Court held that a restriction banning solicitation in the airport was constitutional because an airport is not a public forum.
ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented the oral arguments in a case involving the regulation of literature distribution and fund solicitation on sidewalks in front of a post office. In a deeply divided decision, the Supreme Court held that due to its location and purpose as the only way to enter or exit the post office, that particular sidewalk was not a public forum open to unrestrained free speech activity.
ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented the oral arguments in a case focusing on the constitutionality of the Equal Access Act involving the formation of Bible and prayer clubs on public school campuses. Sekulow successfully argued that the Equal Access Act and the Constitution required that these students receive the same privileges to form student clubs as other students on campus, regardless of the religious nature of their club. In an 8-1 decision, the high Court upheld the constitutionality of the Equal Access Act which requires public schools to allow student-initiated Bible Clubs or prayer groups equal access to meet on campus.
ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments in a case involving the constitutionality of free speech activity including the distribution of religious literature at airport terminals. Sekulow argued that an airport policy banning all “First Amendment activities” was an unconstitutional violation of his clients’ free speech rights. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that the regulation at issue was overbroad on its face because “no conceivable governmental interest would justify such an absolute prohibition of speech.”