Friday, February 28, 2014

Judge: vets’ cemetery cannot contain cross, Star of David

A federal judge ruled, this week, in favor of an atheist group who sued to halt the
construction of a veterans’ memorial in the southern California city of Lake Elsinore. Pacific Justice Institute represents the city.

The design of the memorial includes a small section depicting a WWII soldier kneeling at the graveside of a fallen comrade. The Washington D.C. based American Humanist Association took issue with the design that includes crosses and Stars of David—despite the fact that it accurately mirrors foreign WWII cemeteries."
"This is a disappointing setback for the rights of the people to honor those who have given their life in defense of our nation," said Brad Dacus, president of PJI and a frequent guest on FOT.

“We can't erase history. If you visit foreign war cemeteries from that era, you will see the exact same scene this memorial was portraying," said Michael Peffer, lead counsel and director of PJI's Santa Ana office. The city is exploring its options for appealing the decision and released the following statement: “We are disappointed with the court’s decision. We plan to take a close look at the ruling. Our goal has always been to recognize the men and women who have bravely served to protect our country and our freedoms. We remain committed to this goal.”

Abortion buffer zones: next on Faith on Trial

Tuesday we will be joined by Catherine Short, legal director for Life Legal Defense Foundation, a California-based public interest law firm providing legal services for the pro-life cause.  She will be discussing the recent oral arguments in the United States Supreme Court over Massachusetts buffer-zone law.

Catherine Short
That law prohibits anyone not connected with an abortion clinic from entering within thirty-five feet of the clinic’s entrance.
The law was challenged and the appeals court held that the law was not overly broad or vague, and thus ruled that it was not an unlawful restraint on protected speech. Pro-life advocates appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, and the Supreme Court heard the matter in January. A description of the case can be found here.

Catherine works with our frequent guest, Dana Cody, president of the Life Legal Defense Foundation.  She began her pro-life career as a sidewalk counselor outside an abortion clinic. Over the next few years, her efforts turned to using her legal training to protect the rights of other pro-life activists, including rescuers, sidewalk counselors, and crisis pregnancy centers. In 1989, she participated in establishing Life Legal Defense Foundation, which she now serves as legal director.
Catherine has written numerous briefs for state and federal courts, including petitions for certiorari and amicus briefs in the United States Supreme Court and California Supreme Court. Her primary focus is defending the free speech rights of pro-life activists at every level of both state and federal court.

Join Deacon Mike Manno and co-host Gina Noll Tuesday at 9 a.m. (Central) on Iowa Catholic Radio, 1150 AM, 88.5 & 94.5 FM or on for a discussion of this and other legal issues of interest to people of faith.  The program will be re-broadcast at 9 p.m. Join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

School approves pro-life events but deals blow to all student expression

On our program this week our guest was Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, and we discussed the case of the Tacoma, Washington high school pro-life group that was denied permission to post several pro-life posters promoting their group. 

Today, the Wilson Students for Life (“WSFL”), led by student Bryce Asberg, have received a response from high school administrators that offers a partial resolution to the group’s complaints: events requested by WSFL are now approved, but all student groups have lost the right to post expressive posters throughout the school.  This response follows on concerns raised by Asberg’s attorneys from the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, national counsel of Students for Life of America. Two weeks ago, Thomas More Society, along with Washington attorney Theresa Schrempp, sent a letter demanding that the school end its discriminatory treatment of the pro-life student group, which had faced consistent obstacles when trying to get approval for events and posters.

Bryce Asberg and his parents met with the principal on Monday, to discuss resolving the discrimination against Wilson Students For Life. The principal granted the group’s request to hold a pro-life Day of Silence at their high school, and also officially notified WSFL of its approval to host a diaper drive, collecting diapers for a local pregnancy center. 

However, in response to WSFL’s request to be allowed to hang its pro-life posters, the school decided this week to prohibit all groups from hanging posters containing any graphics, opinions, or other expressive text. The principal’s proposal only allows posters to have meeting or event information on them, banning all other messages.  The effect of this policy is that the expressive nature of any student group’s speech will be limited to the audience that actually attends the meetings or events, with no ability to provoke thought or spark debate with the viewers of the poster who would likely not attend the actual event.

“The new restrictive speech policy by the Wilson High School administration teaches a
Kristan Hawkins
harmful message to their students,” said Peter Breen, a former FOT guest and vice president and senior counsel of the Thomas More Society.  “Instead of showing these young citizens the value of the robust exchange of ideas guaranteed by the First Amendment, the school officials are teaching that the government will go to great lengths to silence messages that it opposes, including the pro-life message. Is that the lesson we want these future voters to take to heart?”

After the meeting, Bryce expressed his concerns to the principal that the new policy would communicate to students that when speech causes conflict, it’s okay for the school to simply shut it down.

“While we are pleased that the Wilson High School administration is now allowing Wilson Students for Life’s events to proceed, we are disappointed that the school has chosen to implement a policy that will limit every student’s ability to publicly advocate for causes they believe in, simply to avoid the pro-life message,” said this week’s FOT guest Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “They are sending a message to all Wilson High students that if they stand up for their rights, everyone’s will be taken away. How can Wilson High School say it is preparing students for the ‘real world’ when they won't allow important issues, issues that directly affect young people, to be discussed in the public square?”

Monday, February 24, 2014

Little Sisters of the Poor forced back to court to protect its religious rights against the Obama Administration.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a religious order of nuns who care of the neediest elderly in society, started their appeal before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Monday, asking the court to protect their religious freedom.  The lawsuit challenges the controversial HHS mandate, which forces the Little Sisters to either pay crippling fines to the IRS or violate their faith by participating in the government’s delivery scheme for life-terminating drugs and devices.

Last month, the U. S. Supreme Court temporarily protected the Little Sisters from the mandate.  The Little Sisters are now before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to extend that protection, and filed their opening brief Monday.

“We are thrilled the Supreme Court temporarily protected the Little Sisters from having to violate their conscience or pay crippling IRS fines.  We are hopeful the Tenth Circuit will give them more lasting protection,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead counsel for Little Sisters of the Poor.  “The federal government is a massive entity that has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people–it doesn’t need to force the Little Sisters to participate.”

The injunction from the Supreme Court provided the Little Sisters short-term protection from being forced to sign and deliver the controversial government forms authorizing, ordering, and incentivizing their health benefits administrator to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and drugs and devices that may cause early abortions. Instead, the Little Sisters simply had to inform HHS of their religious identity and objections.

Protection has been given to 18 of 19 similar cases. “Virtually every other party who asked for protection from the mandate has been given it,” said Rienzi.  

The Little Sisters are joined in the lawsuit by their religious health benefit providers, Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust, and hundreds of similarly-situated Catholic ministries that obtain their health benefits from the same providers.  The Plaintiffs are also represented by Locke Lord, a national law firm, and by Kevin Walsh, a law professor at the University of Richmond.

To date, there are currently 92 lawsuits challenging the unconstitutional HHS mandate.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Campus bias against pro-life student organizations: Next on Faith On Trial

Kristan Hawkins
Kristan Hawkins, president and executive director of Students for Life of America (SFLA), will join us next Tuesday to discuss the current campaign against pro-life student groups on college and high school campuses across the country.

The mission of SFLA is to end abortion by educating students about the issues of abortion, euthanasia, and infanticide; identifying pro-life student leaders; equipping student pro-lifers with the training, skills and resources to be effective and successful; promoting student activity to other local, college and national organizations.
Since becoming executive director of SFLA in 2006, Kristan has helped to more than triple the number of campus pro-life groups in the United States from 181 to nearly 700 in 40 states.  As executive director, Kristan directs the mission and strategy of SFLA and serves as the organization’s official spokeswoman. She has appeared on Fox News, CNN, EWTN, Family Talk with Dr. James Dobson and the Christian Broadcasting Network; she is frequently blogger for and has also been quoted in numerous national and regional newspapers such as the Washington Times, Washington Post,

Join Deacon Mike Manno and co-host Gina Noll Tuesday at 9 a.m. (Central) – and rebroadcast at 9 p.m. – on Iowa Catholic Radio, 1150 AM; 88.5 & 94.5 FM and streaming live on, and don’t forget to “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@FaithOnTrial).

Thursday, February 20, 2014

ADF responds to ISU, Wisconsin U. administrators who caved to atheist group and removed bibles from guest rooms:bibles not unconstitutional

A follow-up to Deacon Mike and Gina discussion last Tuesday on Faith On Trial: The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has sent letters to Iowa State University and the University of Wisconsin this week after the schools needlessly removed Bibles from all university guest rooms after receiving complaints from an atheist group.

Freedom from Religion Foundation complained that allowing groups like Gideons International, a Christian organization, to place Bibles in guest rooms violated the First Amendment. The Alliance Defending Freedom letters debunk those claims, explain that the Bibles do not violate the Constitution, and encourage the universities to restore the Bibles to the guest rooms rather than surrender to the atheist group’s unfounded legal threats and inaccurate demands.

“Public universities, which are the marketplaces of ideas, should understand that the First Amendment does not require them to purge something from campus just because it happens to be religious. Rather, the Constitution requires them to accommodate religion,” said Litigation Staff Counsel Travis Barham. “The Bibles can legitimately stay because their presence in guest rooms is simply a discrete way of accommodating the needs of traveling guests. They are in no way a government promotion of religion.”

The ADF letters to the universities state, “In reality, the First Amendment does not require you to remove these Bibles, and by removing them, you may have demonstrated the very viewpoint discrimination and hostility towards religion that the First Amendment prohibits…. The Supreme Court and numerous other federal courts have repeatedly condemned efforts to exclude or restrict religious materials and activities as viewpoint or content discrimination, both at universities and elsewhere.”

“By allowing Bibles to be placed in their guest rooms, these universities were not unconstitutionally promoting religion to guests but were merely serving their guests’ needs and desires,” added Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker. “The Freedom From Religion Foundation neglected to mention that no court has ruled that universities who provide these Bibles violate the First Amendment. Universities should not allow themselves to be browbeaten into taking unnecessary and potentially unconstitutional actions

The Pope speaks: Evangelii Gaudium

“A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism.” 

Pope Francis
The Joy of the Gospel, p.122

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

School will allow pro-gay posters but not pro-life ones! Thomas More Society enters fray in support of pro-life student group

Wilson High School in Tacoma, Washington has received a letter from the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based public interest law firm, demanding that the school end its discriminatory treatment of a pro-life student group. Wilson Students for Life (“WSFL was established in the Fall of 2013 “loudly proclaim the pro-life message.”  Since its founding, the group has faced constant hostility from the school’s administration, such as forbidding the group to hang its posters or host certain events, while other student groups have faced no similar restrictions.

Students for Life Poster
“Public schools have a duty to treat all student groups equally,” said Peter Breen, Vice President and Senior Counsel of the Thomas More Society.  “Wilson High School’s current policy allows administrators to censor any messages they deem ‘offensive’—in this case, any pro-life message—while allowing other groups broad freedom of speech.  The administration is violating the rights of the students involved in Wilson Students for Life, who do not lose their constitutionally protected freedom of speech when they enter the schoolhouse door.”

The group selected two posters to promote its club and asked the administration’s permission to hang these posters.  The first read “Since Roe v. Wade 1/3 of our generation has been aborted” with a picture of a milk carton and the word “missing” above the photo of a baby. The second poster quotes President Ronald Reagan: “I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion is already born.”

The administration refused to give WSFL permission to hang the posters.  The administration stated that the school policy only allows posters that “do not offend staff or students, put others down if they have a different belief/opinion, or otherwise cause disruption.”  WSFL’s posters, the administration maintained, would violate this policy because they promote a message rather than solely promoting the group’s meetings.

Despite this policy, however, the administration has permitted the Wilson Gay Straight Alliance (“GSA”) to hang flyers, for example, promoting homosexual relationships by showing conjoined male symbols and conjoined female symbols and stating “Love knows no limits.” 

After the administration’s denial of WSFL’s posters, school administrators met with WSFL leaders to “give them advice” on how to best run their club.  On student said he left the meeting feeling like his group was encouraged to only host events after school, while other groups were allowed to do what they wanted during the school day. 

“The Wilson High School administration cannot be allowed to trample on the constitutional rights of Wilson Students for Life,” said Kristan Hawkins, President of Students for Life of America. “Our pro-life students will not accept their right to free speech being taken away. Sadly, this case shows that viewpoint discrimination is alive and well in today’s schools and that administrators think they can still get away with it.  Students for Life of America is proud to stand with Wilson Students for Life to demand that the Wilson High School administration reverse their unjust decision and give equal treatment to all students and student groups, regardless of their views on abortion.”

The federal Equal Access Act requires that schools give each student group the same opportunities, without discriminating against any group.  In 2002, the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held that a Washington school which gave one group access to its bulletin boards must give that access to all student groups.  Moreover, a number of Supreme Court decisions, such as Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Sch. Dist., have held that students’ speech cannot be silenced simply because the administration has vague fears of disruption.

“Wilson Students for Life is passionate about the pro-life movement,” stated Bryce Asberg, Founder of Wilson Students for Life, “and we will continue to stand for life in our community. We simply desire to be allowed to express our views.”

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

University removes ‘offensive’ pro-life display without notifying pro-life student group

A University of Alabama official removed a previously approved pro-life student group’s hallway display last week without any notification to the group after she claimed that some students found the display offensive. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent the student group, Bama Students for Life, which provided a letter to the university Tuesday to register a formal complaint about the incident.

The display, which featured several abortion-related facts, pictures of women who died as a result of having an abortion, and two small pictures of aborted babies, was among numerous other student group displays. A university official claimed that university policy allows her to remove displays that have “offensive or graphic material”; however, the university’s policy pertaining to display cases mentions nothing about offensive or graphic content.

“Universities are supposed to be the marketplace of ideas, not arenas for censoring particular viewpoints just because someone feels offended,” said Legal Counsel Matt Sharp. “We support Bama Students for Life and look forward to continuing to working with them to ensure that their constitutional freedoms are protected.”

On Jan. 17, Bama Students for Life placed the display in a display case it reserved in a hallway of the Ferguson Student Center. When the club’s president and another member of the club went to check on the display Feb. 6, they found that the university had removed it. They went to the center’s event coordinator to ask what happened. The coordinator told the students that she removed the display after receiving complaints that its content was offensive.

As the letter to the university states, “We believe that the removal of our pro-life display violates our First Amendment right to free speech. The United States Supreme Court has said that educators cannot ban offensive speech…. The Ferguson Center permits all kinds of speech by other students and student groups that many people would find ‘offensive’ or ‘graphic.’”

“For example,” the letter continues, “on one bulletin board is an ad for the UA Theatre & Dance program’s presentation of ‘Blood Wedding.’ The poster states that the event is ‘For Mature Audiences’ and features blood stained glass superimposed on a picture of a bride and groom. A few months ago the Ferguson Center Art Gallery displayed student artwork, and one painting showed male full frontal nudity. Other student groups are also permitted to display information about women’s health, safety issues, and the consequences of sex. All of these problems were addressed in our pro-life display that provided facts and information on the harm caused by abortion--both to the infant who is killed and to the mother.”

“This incident is yet another all-too-common example of university administrations attempting to silence speech with which they or others disagree,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, which honored Bama Students for Life as its 2014 Group of the Year. “Bama Students for Life deserves to have its rights protected, and we look forward to the university righting this wrong.”

County fair discriminates against Catholic religious speech by denying group’s application to renew its fair booth

The Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based public interest law firm, together with Wisconsin attorney Jerome Buting, have demanded that the Walworth County (Wisconsin) Fair reverse its initial rejection of booth renewal from “Peter’s Net,” a group promoting Catholic teaching and Catholic churches in Walworth County.

Thomas More Society claims that the fair’s rejection of the group is contrary to the fair’s standard policy for returning exhibitors and that it amounts to illegal discrimination against religious speech. The Peter’s Net booth promotes Catholic Church teaching through visuals and activities.

“The Walworth County Fair staff’s apparent discrimination against Peter’s Net’s religious display violates the Wisconsin Equal Rights Programs statute, which prohibits discrimination based on a person’s creed,” said Attorney Jerome Buting of Brookfield, WI, co-counsel with Thomas More Society, representing Peter’s Net.

“By silencing Peter’s Net’s religious speech, the fair is wielding the censor’s scissors out of anti-religious bias,” added Thomas Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society. “The First Amendment guarantee of free speech and the civil rights law guaranteeing religious liberty on the part of places of public accommodation alike compel the fair foundation to allow religious speech a full and equal voice.”

According to Paula Emmerth, executive director of Peter’s Net, her group hosted a booth at the 2013 Walworth County Fair, which Fair staff members affirmed to Ms. Emmerth did not violate any of the Fair’s probationary requirements for first time exhibitors. The Peter’s Net booth fully complied with the Fair Foundation’s own principles, “provid[ing] the citizens of our area with a wholesome and educational experience.” Nevertheless, at the close of the fair, two fair staff members informed Ms. Emmerth that the fair would not accept Peter’s Net’s deposit for a 2014 booth reservation. The staff gave vague reasons for the denial, which the Thomas More Society and Attorney Buting contend are pretextual, and really amount to unlawful discrimination against the group’s religious speech.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Legatus names FOT guest Erin Mersino “Defender of the Faith”

Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) attorney and Faith On Trial guest, Erin Mersino, has been given the “Defender of the Faith” award by Legatus, America’s largest organization of top Catholic business owners.  The award was presented to Mersino by John Hunt, the Legatus Executive Director, last Friday morning at the annual Legatus convention in Orlando, FL.

According to Hunt, recipients of the award have exhibited perseverance and a visible defense of the tenets of the Catholic Faith, many times at some personal risk. “We are deeply grateful to Erin for her service to Legatus, to the Church and to the constitution that we all hold dear.” said Hunt, as he presented her with the award.
The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) is a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. TMLC’s mission includes defending the religious liberty of Christians guaranteed by our Constitution.  Erin was chosen for the award, in part, for her prescient, creative and tireless work in defense of religious freedom and her service to those whose religious rights are under attack.

Erin’s defense of religious freedom includes her representation of 23 plaintiffs challenging the Obama Administration’s HHS Mandate, and her defense of Father Ray Leonard, the contract Naval Chaplain who was banned from celebrating Catholic Mass during the recent government shut-down and threatened with arrest if he volunteered to celebrate Mass or if he entered the chapel.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law, commented, “Erin is not just an outstanding and courageous attorney; her dedication and unyielding work ethic are what sets her apart. Her passion for these principles, religious freedom and the faith, makes her an undeniable force to be reckoned with.”

Friday, February 7, 2014

Christian pre-school excluded from state scrap tire program files appeal

State claimed religious daycare centers can’t participate,
then admits it has approved such centers on 15 other occasions

Attorneys for the Alliance Defending Freedom have appealed a ruling that held Missouri officials were within their rights to deny a Christian pre-school access to a state program because it was a religious school.
Trinity Lutheran Church Child Learning Center in Columbia sought a grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Solid Waste Management Program to participate in the 2012 Playground Scrap Tire Surface Material Grant Program. The center wished to remove and replace a large portion of the pea gravel surfacing on its playgrounds with a safer, recycled, pour-in-place rubberized product.

Because the program has a limited amount of money to distribute, the department ranks the applications to determine which applicants will receive grants. Trinity Lutheran scored fifth out of 44 applicants, and the department provided grants to 14 projects in 2012. Nonetheless, the department disqualified Trinity Lutheran solely because it is operated by Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia.
Despite the fact that the department recently admitted that it allowed religious pre-schools to participate on at least 15 occasions, it continues to defend its denial of Trinity Lutheran’s application by pointing to a section of the state constitution that prohibits government funding of religion. ADF attorneys explain, however, that providing grant monies for the purpose of purchasing recycled tires for a playground is clearly not furthering religious purposes.

“That same section of the state constitution also states that ‘no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship,’” said Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “The state cannot single out this pre-school for exclusion when it has allowed other religious daycare centers to participate in the program in the past.”


Thursday, February 6, 2014

President: Not even a “smidgen” of IRS corruption? Is he right? We'll discuss that next Tuesday on Faith On Trial

Last week, in response to a question from FOX News about how the IRS treats pro-life, pro-family and conservative organizations, President Obama told Bill O’Reilly that there was not
Sally Wagenmaker
a “smidgen” of corruption in the IRS.  Was he correct? Are conservative leaning and Christian groups being singled out?

The Thomas More Society says it is “shocked” that the president would deny IRS abuse, and it should know: it represents many of the groups that have been targeted [see earlier story]. Next Tuesday on Faith On Trial Chicago Attorney Sally Wagenmaker, special counsel with the Thomas More Society will be our guest and will discuss these issues.
Through her law office, Wagenmaker & Oberly, LLC, Sally provides legal counsel in corporate, tax, employment, and real estate matters for nonprofit, tax-exempt clients. She is president of the Northern Illinois Chapter of Christian Legal Society and a director of the national Christian Legal Society.

Join Deacon Mike Manno, co-host Gina Noll and Sally Tuesday morning at 9 (Central) on Iowa Catholic Radio, 1150 AM; 88.5 & 94.5 FM and streaming live on The program will be re-broadcast at 9 p.m. and don’t forget to “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@FaithOnTrial).

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Thomas More Society “shocked” that Obama would deny IRS corruption; refutes president’s statements citing client victims of IRS

After irrefutable evidence of corruption in the IRS, including harassment of pro-life organizations, why would Obama deny that corruption took place? 

President Obama told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that the recent IRS targeting scandal had “not even a smidgen of corruption.” The denial-laden interview on Sunday leaves the Thomas More Society shocked, as the President adamantly rejected the suggestion that the IRS was abusing groups not in concert with his administration. He claimed that IRS officials were confused about how to implement laws governing tax-exempt groups.  The Thomas More Society, however, a national public interest law firm based in Chicago, was heavily involved in providing Congress with evidence of specific wrongdoing on the part of Lois Lerner—disgraced former IRS director of the exempt organizations division—and her staff.

“Thomas More Society has defended six pro-life organizations whose First Amendment rights were trampled upon by the IRS because of the groups’ dedication to the sanctity of life,” said Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel of the Thomas More Society. “In fact, in May and August of 2013, Thomas More Society produced two memos to the House Committee on Ways and Means, totaling over 500 pages of evidence that the IRS specifically targeted and harassed pro-life and conservative charities, illegally questioning their religious activities and withholding their tax exemptions. Frankly, we are shocked that President Obama would state that there was ‘not even a smidgeon of corruption’ involved in the IRS scandal. The Obama Administration must stop making excuses to cover up the IRS’ illegal activity and instead deal justly with the corruption and scandal that occurred.” The following links record the Thomas More Society exposure of the IRS pro-life discrimination scandal:

Monday, February 3, 2014

“IMPEACH OBAMA” T-shirts, American flag display deemed illegal by town; Federal lawsuit filed

The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, announced today that it has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Town of Campbell, Wisconsin’s ordinance which police are enforcing to prohibit citizens from displaying the American Flag and wearing t-Shirts which call for the impeachment of President Obama on the highway overpass managed by the Town. 

At issue is the enforcement of the Town of Campbell’s ordinance, 9.12, which prohibits the display of signs and flags on, or within 100 feet, of the only pedestrian overpass managed by the Town of Campbell. The Town enacted the ordinance on October 8, 2013 in response to some angry calls about the “Impeach Obama” expression on the t-shirts and the resulting media attention. 
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin on behalf of La Crosse residents Gregory Luce and Nicholas Newman against the Town of Campbell, its police chief, and one of his officers. Luce and Newman were participating in a nationwide movement called “Overpasses for America.”

Erin Mersino, a TMLC attorney and frequent guest on Faith on Trail, who is handling the case, said, “Viewpoint discrimination is one of the most harmful threats to our freedom of speech.  The answer to contempt of a certain viewpoint is not to silence that viewpoint, but to invite more speech and create a discourse.  That is one of the most fundamental tenets of our Republic.  The ordinance at issue turns the public sidewalk on the overpass, which is otherwise open to the public into a dead speech zone.”
The lawsuit claims that the Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly have been violated and that the Ordinance is unconstitutional on its face and as applied by the police. Because the Plaintiffs wish to continue their constitutionally protected speech, they asked the Court to enter a Preliminary Injunction banning further enforcement of the ordinance during the pendency of the lawsuit.  

Gregory Luce is a Catholic who is pro-life and opposes President Obama for many reasons including the President’s actions in support of abortion.  On October 24, 2013, Luce along with a few of his supporters appeared on the pedestrian overpass wearing t-shirts that collectively spelled out “IMPEACH” on one side and “OBAMA” on the backside. A Town of Campbell police officer confronted Luce and his supporters and ordered them to leave or receive citations.  Luce and his supporters left as ordered.  This police action also thwarted a similarly planned demonstration by Luce on public land 100 feet from the overpass in question, which was also prohibited by the challenged ordinance.
Plaintiff Nicholas Newman is a patriotic American.  On October 27, 2013, Newman appeared on the overpass in question carrying an American Flag to express his pride for his country and the ideals on which it was founded.   Police issued Newman a citation for displaying the American Flag in violation of the ordinance, which carries a fine of $139.00.

The pedestrian overpass consists of only a sidewalk with a fence on either side.  Sidewalks are considered by the courts as traditional public forums.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, commented, “The Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that a bedrock principle of the First Amendment is that government cannot ban the expression of ideas just because some find it offensive.   In fact, the Supreme Court has allowed the burning of the American Flag on the grounds that it is matter of free expression.  So I’m astonished that the Town of Campbell and the police department think it can ban a citizen from displaying the American Flag.”