Let the Banner Fly! Protecting the Free Speech Rights of Churches | American Center for Law and Justice
  Search  |  Login  |  Register

ACLJ Profile Completion


Protecting the Free Speech of Churches

By Geoffrey Surtees1400696044000

Last month, we were contacted by a pastor in New York who wished to display a church’s banner over a city’s main street announcing a religious, community event to be held in a public park.  The event, cosponsored with nine other local churches and ministries, and now in its third year, will include worship music, sermons, prayer, games, and a host of other activities.  The event is free and open to the public and one need not be a member of any church or religious affiliation to attend.

When the pastor proposed his banner to the city’s public works department, which included the name of the event, “United, One Church, One Cross,” he was told the banner would not be permitted.  According to a city policy regulating the display of banners over Main Street, “no commercial, religious or political advertisements will be allowed on banners.”

In an attempt to display something that would bring attention to the church’s event, the pastor proposed a number of other alternatives for the banner that didn’t contain the words “Church” or “Cross.”  These too were rejected by the city.  The pastor was told that because the event was a religious one, no banner could be displayed at all, no matter how it was worded.

That’s when then pastor got in touch with the ACLJ.

We wrote a letter to the city attorney explaining that the city’s banner regulations violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment for two reasons: (1) they are unreasonable in light of the city’s purpose for allowing such banners in the first place (that is, to announce community events of interest to the general public) and (2) they constitute impermissible viewpoint discrimination based on religion.  As we explained:

The City Banner Regulations allow certain groups to display banners containing any viewpoint those groups wish to communicate, except for commercial, political, or religious “advertisements.”  Here, [the church] would like to do precisely what other local groups have done (like the Rotary Club and Jaycees), i.e., advertise for a local, community event that is open to the public, but it cannot do so because the event that the banner publicizes has been deemed by the City to be “religious.”  Because this amounts to religious viewpoint discrimination, the restriction fails to pass constitutional muster.

Shortly after we sent the letter, the city contacted the pastor indicating that it was now willing to allow the church to put up a version of the banner that didn’t contain the words “Church” or “Cross.”

While we appreciated the city’s slight change of position, this was not the resolution we were hoping for -- nor was it a resolution consistent with what the First Amendment requires.

After sending a follow-up letter to the city attorney, stating that we could see no principled basis for “the City disallowing the banner that sets forth the name of the event the banner publicizes,” the city once again reached out to the pastor.  This time, the city agreed to allow the church to display its banner complete with the words, “United, One Church, One Cross” -- in other words, without any censorship of any kind.

We are pleased that the city ultimately made the right decision in this situation.   And we are pleased too that, instead of allowing it to be silenced by the city’s regulations, the pastor contacted us about the church’s right to free speech.  It is not good enough simply to have First Amendment liberties; we must act on them and seek to vindicate them when necessary.

Latest in
Free Speech

Big Tech Censorship and Bias – What Do We Do About It?

By Craig Parshall1591794000000

On May 28th, 2020 President Donald Trump released his Executive Order (“EO”) titled, “Preventing Online Censorship.” In releasing the full text of the EO, mainstream media outlets like NBC news were quick to criticize the Presidential order, characterizing it as just a “response to Twitter,” which...

read more

Leftist Doxing of Conservatives and the First Amendment

By Laura Hernandez1570115343105

Last week, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed an amicus brief in two related cases, Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP) v. Becerra and Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) v. Becerra. Both cases began in California when the Attorney General required all charities to submit lists of...

read more

ACLJ Cues Up Free Speech Case for Supreme Court

By Walter M. Weber1534795413681

Today the ACLJ filed a reply in support of our request that the Supreme Court hear an important free speech case, Keister v. Bell . At stake in the case is the freedom of people to speak on sidewalks along public streets. I wrote about this case when we filed our petition in early July. Since then,

read more

A Blow to Big Labor & A Win For Free Speech

By ACLJ.org1530801653531

For decades public sector employees have been forced to subsidize public sector unions and their political and ideological agenda. No more. In a major victory for free speech and free association, the Supreme Court has just struck down requirements that force public sector employees to pay fees to...

read more