Tuesday, June 26, 2007

U.S. Supreme Court Hands Down Three Favorable Decisions

U.S. Supreme Court Hands Down Three Favorable Decisions

by Wendy Cloyd, assistant editor

Rulings issued on faith-based programs, grassroots lobbying and student speech.

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down decisions today in three cases involving freedom of speech.

The court ruled that a liberal group did not have standing to challenge the Bush administration's promotion of its faith-based program; that a pro-life group should not have been barred from pre-election advertising; and that school officials can restrict drug-related speech, but not religious speech.
Freedom from Religion vs. Freedom of Religion

The court ruled the group Freedom from Religion Foundation did not have standing to challenge the use of taxpayer dollars to advertise and promote President Bush's faith-based initiative.

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, called it a "very significant victory."

"This sends a powerful message," he said, "that atheists and others antagonistic to religion do not get an automatic free pass to bring Establishment Clause lawsuits."

Bruce Hausknecht, judicial analyst for Focus on the Family Action, agreed.
"This was a win," he said, "because it rejects the theory of taxpayer standing that would have allowed liberal groups to reach into the executive branch to complain about every speech, every meeting and every action that the president might take with regard to faith or faith-based initiatives.

"The liberal special-interest groups out there that insist on scrubbing religion out of the public square and American life have been denied an opportunity to increase their power to do so."

In a statement, President Bush applauded the decision by the high court.

"This ruling is a win for the thousands of community and faith-based nonprofits all across the country that have partnered with government at all levels to serve their neighbors," Bush said. "Most importantly, it is a win for the many whose lives have been lifted by the caring touch and compassionate hearts of these organizations."

The victory, he said, means the Faith-Based and Community Initiative can remain focused on strengthening America.

The full text of the president's statement is available on the White House Web site.

Rights of the People vs. Campaign-Finance Reform

In Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, the high court ruled a section of the campaign-finance law unconstitutional.

The pro-life group challenged the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 -- which prevents special-interest groups from running ads that mention a federal candidate within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election.

Hausknecht said the court ruled it a violation of the First Amendment to prohibit issue ads that do not rise to the "functional equivalent" of express campaign speech.

"It's a solid victory for core political speech," he said, "which is the heart of what the First Amendment's free speech clause was intended to protect."

Sekulow said while the ruling only addressed the specific instance involving Wisconsin Right to Life, "the high court made an important acknowledgement – the pro-life speech in this case was wrongfully censored."

"This decision represents a severe blow to a campaign-finance provision that amounts to nothing more than censorship," he said, "a victory for those who want to express their views on issues that matter most prior to an election."

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the ruling was needed to eliminate an obstacle to free speech.

"Americans have a constitutionally protected right to hold their elected representatives accountable," he said in a statement. "I hope, with this important decision, we can begin to undo the stranglehold that campaign-finance legislation has placed on political debate."

Students' Rights vs. Educators' Duty

In the controversial free-speech case out of Juneau, AlaskaMorse v. Frederick -- the Supreme Court handed down a narrow ruling that said school officials can quash drug-related speech at school functions, but refused to extend that authority to other forms of controversial speech, including religious expression.

Five years ago, students at Juneau-Douglas High School were let out of school to watch torch bearers for the 2002 Olympics. Joe Frederick raised a sign reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." According to news reports, he wasn't trying to make a statement so much as raise a ruckus.

Deborah Morse, then the school principal, confiscated the sign and suspended Frederick for drug speech.

Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for Liberty Legal Institute, said while the court ruled in favor of Morse, the carefully written decision protects the free speech rights of students.

"The school district asked for a breathtaking new power to ban all student speech it did not feel furthered the school's 'educational mission,' " Shackelford said in a statement. "That request was rejected."

Instead the ruling gives schools the authority to regulate drug speech, he said, but still protects student speech – including religious expression.

The full text of the decisions can be found on the U.S. Supreme Court Web site.

Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation

Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life

Morse v. Frederick

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Source: http://www.citizenlink.org/CLtopstories/A000004903.cfm


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