Blog of Rights

12 Days of Religious Liberty - Day 8

By Alicia Gay, ACLU at 9:52am

During what is often referred to as the holiday season, a variety of cultures and religions honor an equally diverse number of both religious and secular traditions. Christmas, Hanukkah, and Bodhi Day are just some of the religious holidays that are celebrated this time of year. And for many who don’t subscribe to a particular faith tradition, the season is still seen as an occasion to gather with friends and family.

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No matter why you are celebrating this holiday season, we can all celebrate living in a country where religious freedom is a fundamental value. The First Amendment's Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses not only protect the right to believe (or not to believe), but also the right to express and to manifest religious beliefs.

In honor of our country’s proud history of promoting religious freedom, and the ACLU’s commitment to protecting the rights of all religious believers to practice their faith, this holiday season we are highlighting 12 cases we have brought on behalf of a variety of faiths defending religious liberty and the right to religious expression.

Eighth Day: The ACLU Opposes Puerto Rico Law Restricting Access To Public Streets on Behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Public streets have served as a forum for free speech for generations, and practitioners of all faiths have the right to proclaim their faith on the street. Earlier this year, the ACLU, its national chapter in Puerto Rico and its affiliates in New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing unconstitutional laws that effectively ban Jehovah's Witnesses from freely expressing their faith in the streets of Puerto Rico.

The brief supported a constitutional challenge to Puerto Rico laws, enacted in 1987, that authorize neighborhoods to deny citizens access to public residential streets by erecting walls and gates around them. The laws effectively prohibit Jehovah's Witnesses from engaging in the door-to-door public ministry for which they are well known worldwide. The federal lawsuit was filed by the approximately 25,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Puerto Rico, as well as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., the publisher of religious material that is often distributed by Jehovah's Witnesses.

Jehovah's Witnesses accept a religious duty to share the Bible's message publicly and to proselytize from house to house. They engage in door-to-door ministry, communicate about the Bible with people on public streets, and offer religious literature to anyone interested in reading it. The ACLU argued that Puerto Rico law unfairly limits Jehovah’s Witnesses ability to express this tenant of faith. Read more…

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For more instances of the ACLU rigorously defending the rights of all religious believers to practice their faiths, please visit our website.

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