By Bruce Green, AFA Law Center Chief Counsel
July 1997 – American Family Association seeks to educate the public on the Judeo-Christian ethic of decency in American society with primary emphasis on television and other media. Central to the mission of the AFA are the constitutional rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. If AFA, its supporters and affiliates, motivated by their sincerely held religious beliefs, are not free to speak in the furtherance of the AFA mission, then the twenty years of effectiveness will come to a screeching halt.
The AFA Law Center is the litigation division of the AFA and exists, in part, to protect AFA’s right to continue its long history of effective ministry to American society. The Law Center also exists to defend the constitutional rights of Christians generally from government infringement. Since late 1990, the Law Center has engaged in civil rights and first amendment litigation in federal and state courts throughout the country, primarily focusing its efforts in the areas of free speech and religious freedom.
As most people of faith know, our society is becoming increasingly hostile to the exercise of free speech in the public arena by Christians. There is even a growing hostility to the free exercise of religion by Christians, unless, of course, it is done in the privacy of one’s own home or within the four walls of a church. Let one’s faith motivate him to speech or action in the public arena, however, and the heavy hammer of government suppression is swift and final. This growing government hostility is influenced by certain signs of cultural decline in American society. For example, there is evident in our culture a general decay in morality, an infatuation with social engineering, a fixation on political correctness, and a wholesale loss of respect for life.
As always, the hope for the future of our country rests in the strength of its Christian people and churches. The effect, however, of government suppression of free speech and free exercise of religion is devastating to the Christian church and the family. Without the ability to worship freely and speak the truth regarding the need for repentance in our society, the church is hindered in fulfilling the Great Commission and its cultural mission to society as a whole. Similarly, the family is hindered in the ability to perpetuate its faith and values to future generations.
The AFA has, for twenty years, taken a lead in motivating individual Christians, families, and churches to practice their faith and speak the truth in the public arena. Activists who lovingly and publicly confront the signs of decay in our culture are the lifeblood of AFA’s ministry and the key to future victory. The AFA Law Center regularly defends the rights of those activists when they are threatened with suppression by local, state, or national government. While not every challenge ends in success for the activists and AFA mission, God has been faithful to bring great victories to glorify His name.
A recent example of a precedent-setting victory occurred in Iowa, where a gentleman who worked for a county in the state was terminated for reasons related to the exercise of his faith. In the process, he was ordered to remove everything from his office that “might be considered to be religious” and he was even commanded to remove a small Bible from his desk drawer. The Law Center represented this man in a major religious discrimination case and won on religious freedom grounds. As a result of that win, others all over the country have been able to secure greater religious freedom in the workplace.
Within the last few months the Law Center won the biggest trial of its history and brought a halt to oppressive governmental application against peaceful pro-life Christians of a federal statute. In 1995, the United States of America and the State of Connecticut joined to file an unprecedented civil action against three peaceful pro-life advocates in the State of Connecticut. The Law Center defended two of the three individuals, whose only activities were the exercise of their free speech and free exercise rights to assist in saving over 500 babies from destruction. In a glorious expression of God’s power and sovereignty, the Law Center won the case in March of this year, in spite of all the power and resources of the combined governments.
God also showed Himself strong recently in another case of governmental suppression of free speech and free exercise of religion in South Carolina. The case involved the arrest of a pro-life activist who was distributing gospel tracts in front of an abortion center. She was arrested, searched, held in jail, and had her tracts and Bible confiscated. The Law Center filed a federal lawsuit against the city and the court ruled in favor of our client. As a result of this victory, there is once again free speech on public sidewalks in the city and a nearby large metropolitan area enacted a free speech policy designed to give maximum protection to individuals exercising their constitutional rights.
In another “David and Goliath” story, the Law Center successfully challenged the Internal Revenue Service’s policy of granting official recognition to gay and lesbian employee clubs while withholding such recognition from an evangelical Christian employee group. The IRS reversed its blatantly unconstitutional discrimination against Christians and granted recognition to a Christian employee club in Austin, Texas.
In addition to the few examples noted above, the Law Center represents numerous clients in administrative actions with local school boards or city governments and educates such entities on the constitutional rights of Christians. The Law Center also regularly assists municipalities and states with the enactment of legislation designed to protect against the harmful effects of pornography and sexually oriented businesses. While the scourge of pornography grows in American society, we continue to see significant victories in locations where Christian activists are bold, organized, and relentless in making the truth known in the public arena.
If Christians remain faithful to the Lord and become more involved in our culture in ever increasing numbers, there is great hope for the future. Our country has yet to see what God will do with an army of trained and committed Christian activists who seek to speak the truth without compromise in the public marketplace. Rest assured that the AFA Law Center will be here to provide support, encouragement, and a vigorous defense of your constitutional rights of free speech and freedom of religion.