A citizen of Bleckley County, Georgia, recently contacted the ACLJ when she received word that an atheist group had contacted Bleckley county officials in hopes of unconstitutionally silencing a scheduled public Bible reading.
A Bible Reading Marathon is a 90-hour event in which individuals read the Bible aloud in its entirety. Bible Reading Marathons take place across the United States every year. A Marathon even occurs on the West Front of the United States Capitol Building, and has for the last 27 years.
Citizens of the City of Cochran and Bleckley County have held Bible Reading Marathons on the steps of the Bleckley County Courthouse annually since 2004. When it appeared that this year’s Marathon might be in jeopardy because of threats made by an atheist group from Texas, the Cochran-Bleckley Ministerial Alliance – the group that runs the Marathon – sought help from the ACLJ just days before the event was to begin.
Without delay, the ACLJ sent a letter to the Bleckley County Attorney explaining that the law is solidly on the side of those individuals who wish to participate in the Bible Reading Marathon. The First Amendment guarantees that these individuals can express their views – including their religious views – in a public forum. What is more, the county courthouse steps are a classic example of just such a forum.
If Bleckley County officials want to regulate or restrict speech and expression that occurs on those steps, they must do it in such a way that all speech is treated the same. In short, religious speech cannot be silenced simply because it is religious.
After the event was over, we received word from the individual who originally contacted us for assistance: No one tried to interfere with the Marathon and the event went off without a hitch.
We are happy to report this victory for the citizens of Bleckley County, Georgia, and will continue our fight to protect freedom of speech and expression from government overreach.
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