Just for Jesus

When people toss out the accusation that the ACLU is anti-religious or, specifically, anti-Christian, I react somewhere between being bemused and annoyed, depending on the day's stress level. Bemused because they'd flunk Constitutional Law 101; and annoyed because it's so not true. If it were, why do we regularly help Christians when the government intrudes on their activities? You can read more about some of these cases at /defendingreligion.

As the ACLU's Legal Director for Pennsylvania, I've been responsible for many cases helping religious believers exercise their constitutional rights. Last week the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit on behalf of the "Just for Jesus Challenge Homeless Outreach," a ministry of the First Apostles' Doctrine Church in Brookville, Pennsylvania, which was founded a few years ago to bring shelter and Jesus Christ to homeless people in this rural area, about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The ministry aids pretty much anyone in need. When I last visited, the group included disabled military veterans, teenagers forced from their homes, senior citizens who couldn't afford their personal care homes, recently released low-level offenders, people referred by county mental health agencies, and people evicted from their homes and apartments.

Exterior of the Just for Jesus church.

This past summer Brookville shut down the ministry, falsely charging that the ministry had violated local zoning codes. Then on September 4, Brookville zoning officials and police officers, thinking they would catch people sleeping in the church, forced their way inside by climbing through a window, without a warrant or consent. The minister sought help from "Christian" public-interest groups, but was turned down. As so often happens in these situations, when rights are violated and no one else will help, the ACLU rides to the rescue.

Sort of like the Just for Jesus ministry, the ACLU helps pretty much anyone — why else do you think we do cases for the KKK, sex offenders, death row inmates and anyone who may not be popular with other Americans. Believe me, it's not because we necessarily agree with their messages or beliefs. As I tell my new student interns every semester, screening complaints is easy. The ACLU doesn't care what the person looks like, i.e., race, gender, ethnicity, disability, etc., how much money they have, for whom they vote, whom they love, or to whom they pray. The only thing that matters is whether the person's rights are being violated. There is no big sign in the office saying "Only ____ need apply."

Just for Jesus's clothes drive for the homeless in Pittsburgh.

The Pennsylvania ACLU handles — and always has handled — lots of religious-liberty cases. The cases that attract people's attention are the ones where we challenge government sponsorship of religion — freedom from government-promoted religion. We're well-known for the school prayer case in the 60's (Abington v. Schempp), the courthouse crèche case in the late 80's (Allegheny County v. ACLU), and the Dover Intelligent Design case in this decade (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District). There's a whole lot more. People who understand the First Amendment's twin pillars of protection for religious liberty — freedom from government-promoted religion and freedom of religion to be free from governmental restraints — know that preventing government from sponsoring or promoting religion actually enhances religious liberty.

But we do an almost equal number of cases on behalf of religious people or groups fighting against government interference — the freedom of religion stuff. And we do a lot of cases for Christians, especially considering there are so many public-interest groups that do cases only for Christians (think of the ACLJ, Alliance Defense Fund, Christian Legal Society, Thomas More Law Center, etc.). While those groups favor only these cases, ACLU still represents Christians and everyone else, and we are always happy to help.

The case for the Just for Jesus homeless ministry is part of a steady flow of cases we handle for churches and Christians. In the past 18 months, we went to court to reopen a soup kitchen in a McKeesport Church and a shelter for mental-health court referrals and homeless at Cleft of the Rock Church in Munhall. We negotiated a variance to allow a predominantly African-American church to open in Turtle Creek. We helped the Warren County Amish with government utilities regulations, and helped non-denominational Christians get self-uniting marriage licenses that Allegheny County had restricted to Bahai's and Quakers. And we successfully defended a Pennsylvania branch of Pax Christi from a defamation suit over an important report they issued on lousy medical care at the Lackawanna County (Scranton) Prison. These freedom-of-religion cases are a regular part of our docket, but as with the most recent case, our one-sided attackers — for reasons only their conscience knows — ignore them.

Interior of the Just for Jesus church during the Sunday Prayer Service.

Within two days of filing suit for the "Just for Jesus Challenge Homeless Outreach," we got a court order allowing our Christian clients to resume operations. This was a particularly gratifying win. The Reverend Jack Wisor, the church's founder and bishop, is serving a huge and, unfortunately, growing need. Sitting in his small church two weeks ago, listening to him preach the gospel to the guests, hearing their mostly sad stories about how life had taken a nasty turn and how the church was helping them regain their bearing, I was impressed and inspired. Glad we could help. All part of the ACLU's rights-defending mission. Rights of everyone, that is. No exceptions.

To learn more about this case, go to http://www.aclupa.org/legal/legaldocket/justforjesuschallengehomel.

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Liberal hater

This is a complete lie. The ACLU has spent 0ver 70 years undermining one and only one religion--CHRISTIANITY.

So what. You can provide a couple, and I mean only a couple of times that the ACLU supported a Christian organization. But there are hundreds if not thousand of times the ACLU has tried to wipe Christianity off the face of the Earth. I think if you put it on a scale we know which way it would come out.

When public schools in California made children dress up like muslims, read from the Koran, discuss Islamic law while being taught and instructed by some Islamic teacher in the class rooms, well the ACLU had nothing to say about it. I sure as hell know for a fact that if it had been a preacher with a Bible reading Sunday School lessons to public school children that the ACLU would have sued them for every nickle they owned.

That's called being dishonest and two-faced, not to mention cowardly!

PStryder

Posting under the name Liberal Hater makes it very unlikely that any one who doesn't already agree with you is going to listen to you.

And you're wrong, besides. (Not to mention bigoted and intolerant.)

Robert

First let me say that this is a good article with good examples to back up its claims.

As for this: "When public schools in California made children dress up like muslims, read from the Koran, discuss Islamic law while being taught and instructed by some Islamic teacher in the class rooms, well the ACLU had nothing to say about it. I sure as hell know for a fact that if it had been a preacher with a Bible reading Sunday School lessons to public school children that the ACLU would have sued them for every nickle they owned."

The purpose of teaching about Islam in classrooms is to inform. It's perfectly acceptable to teach the facts about a religion in a public school setting, as long as they are not endorsing a certain religion as the truth there's nothing wrong. Freedom of Religion in our schools doesn't mean denying its existence. And who better to teach about Islam than, as you put it, "some Islamic teacher?"

Reality Lover

Liberal Hater:

I just went to the actual WEBPAGE provided for you so graciously, and counted. The ACLU defended the rights of religious worshippers from government persecution 125 times, and "tried to wipe Christianity off the face of the Earth" a whopping 13 times. So it looks like you've got your numbers reversed, there.

Next time you should try some fact-checking before robotically repeating what Bill O'Reilly has told you.

Otto Katz

Hey, Liberal Hater, got any citations to back up your stories? Didn't think so. The ACLU is there to defend everyone, regardless of their creed, or lack thereof. You obviously don't know a darn thing about them.

Michael D. Adams

Hey Hating Christian, why wait for the rapture? Get the hell off this planet now so the rest of us can get on with trying to save it from the destruction of your "dominion".
Ever So Sincerely,
Michael D. Adams
Atlanta

A poster

I agree that conservative complaints about the ACLU on religious grounds are not well-founded.

On the other hand, complaints about the ACLU's official stance on the Second Amendment -- which is to weaken it and clashes with the ACLU's normally-expansive views of Constitutional rights -- are quite legitimate. Anyone who would like to donate to the ACLU to promote, say, free-speech rights is also stuck in a position of providing support to an organization that wants to severely cut into the Second Amendment.

Sean S.

Considering that Christianity is the majority religion in America, and that majorities are usually the ones whom overstep their boundaries in enforcing their world view, its no surprise that the ACLU has generally fought attempts to mix Christianity and the state together. As one Supreme Court justice said, though the persons name escapes me, majorities don't often need the protection of the courts. Minorities do in the face of majority tyranny.

But it doesn't surprise me that someone would play the victim card; in an age of "Reverse discrimination", where marginalized groups are painted as a politically correct gestapo, its clear that nothing but acquiescence will satisfy the once reigning king's of American polity.

S.o.G.

It's pretty clear from the article that you've only defended christian soup kitchens and churches for homeless people and so forth.

That's like european style christianity, and has nothing to do with the fact that you are prejudiced against proper American christianity.

Pat

Liberal Hater. I haven't heard anything about the situation you've discussed. Based on the track record of people like you, I doubt that it actually happened.

You don't believe that the ACLU defends everyone? I'm guessing that you are a fan of Rush Limbaugh? The ACLU defended him against the government in his drug case.

BTW, you should get over your hate. It's not healthy to hate.

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