State Attacks on Freedom of Religious Expression

Discriminatory Bane against Christian Leaflets

The city of Milwaukee adopted an ordinance based on a Wisconsin statute that prohibited the placement of pamphlets on vehicles, with violators to be fined from between $20 and $400. But the law was discriminatory, banning the distributing of religious leaflets while permitting others, such as those seeking to raise awareness of handicap parking rules. The city cited Rosemary Deida under the ordinance for persecution distributing Christian literature on car windshields near City Hall. When Deida challenged the law, the federal district court ruled in her favor, holding that the First Amendment does not permit the dissemination of some ideas and not others. If anything, the First Amendment affords greater protection to religious expression, which, stated the court, "holds a place at the core of the type of speech that the First Amendment was designed to protect." The court rejected the city's contention that the ordinance should be subject to less scrutiny because its purpose was not to restrict the content of the speech itself, but to reduce litter and protect private property.

Do Churches Have the Rights of Free Association and Religious Expression?

In April 2002, a California Superior Court judge refused for the second time to bar an allegedly disruptive woman named Lady CageBarile from the Church of Christ in Hollywood. After she repeatedly disrupted church services, the church notified Cage-Barile in February of that year that her membership in the church was terminated and she could no longer enter church property. She ignored the requests and continued to appear and disrupt, calling church officials "Satan's agents." When the church had originally requested an injunction against Cage-Barile, the court denied it, saying her actions were "pure speech." The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty then joined the case with local counsel. The attorneys submitted a brief contending that "a church has a fundamental right to determine who is and who is not a member" and citing Boy Scouts v. Dale in support of the church's constitutionally guaranteed freedom of association. CageBarile, according to the church, became even more disruptive, spending "part of her Sundays ripping religious literature and notices off the Church walls," shouting at congregation members, and "obstructing or impeding ingress into or egress from the church."

The church alleged that Cage-Barile's actions caused it to lose members, cancel ministries, and even occasionally resort to secret meetings. But again the court denied the church's request for an injunction. The church appealed the decision to the California Second District Court of Appeals in May, and finally, on July 2, 2002, the court ruled in favor of the church. The order of the three-judge panel stated, "The church, like any nonsectarian property owner, may decide whom to allow on its premises" and that Cage-Barile's "right of free speech does not trump the church's right to prohibit her disruptive conduct on its property."

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