June 26, 2014 – Christian Legal Society is grateful for the U.S. Supreme Court’s reaffirmation of Americans’ freedom of assembly and religious liberty in its decision today in McCullen v. Coakley. CLS filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of a coalition of religious organizations in support of citizens’ religious speech and assembly rights.
“John Adams would have been the first to defend these brave pro-life speakers against Massachusetts’ brazen attempts to silence them,” explained David Nammo, Executive Director & CEO of the Christian Legal Society. “By censoring peaceful speech on public sidewalks, Massachusetts turned its back on its heritage as the birthplace of American freedom. But the Supreme Court today reclaimed that heritage for all Americans.”
CLS argued that the Court’s longstanding presumption that the government cannot ban speech on public sidewalks is anchored in freedom of assembly, as well as freedom of speech. Beginning with William Penn’s infamous arrest for giving a sermon on a London street, the brief examined the close ties that have historically intertwined religious liberty and freedom of assembly.
Applying history’s lesson that religious liberty needs robust freedom of assembly, the brief argued that Massachusetts’ attempts to stifle peaceful pro-life speech on public sidewalks violated the First Amendment. The Massachusetts law prohibited many citizens from entering a public street or sidewalk within 35 feet of an abortion facility. Citizens were subject to fines — and even jail — for entirely peaceful expression, including distributing written materials and praying.
The brief was co-authored by Professor John Inazu, Associate Professor of Law and Political Science, Washington University in St. Louis, and Professor Michael McConnell, Professor of Law, Stanford Law School. The brief drew heavily on Professor Inazu’s book, Liberty’s Refuge: The Forgotten Freedom of Assembly, published by Yale University Press.
The Christian Legal Society brief was joined by ten religious organizations: National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; American Bible Society; National Association of Evangelicals; Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA; Christian Medical Association; International Society for Krishna Consciousness; Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance; and the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod.