ACLJ Encouraged that Supreme Court Orders Appeals Court to Reconsider National Day of Prayer Case in

Friday, October 3, 2003 | Tag Cloud

(Washington, DC) – The American Center for Law and Justice, an international public interest law firm, said today it is encouraged that the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered a federal appeals court to reconsider its ruling that the City of Tucson acted properly when it discriminated against a couple, Patricia and Robert Gentala, who organized a public event celebrating the National Day of Prayer in 1997.

"We are encouraged by the action taken by the Supreme Court,” said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ, which is representing the Gentalas. “The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the right to free speech includes the right to deliver a religious message. Equal access for religious speech is a matter of constitutional right. We are hopeful the federal appeals court will take the appropriate action as directed by the Supreme Court and act in a manner that will uphold and protect the First Amendment rights of our clients.”

In the case of Gentala v. City of Tucson, the ACLJ filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Gentalas claiming the couple faced unconstitutional discrimination against religious speech regarding a National Day of Prayer event in 1997 in Tucson, Arizona.

Under the city’s Civic Event Policy, nonprofit groups are eligible for a waiver of charges for various services – such as lighting and trash collection – in connection with events held in city parks. Pursuant to the policy, Tucson has provided free city services for such events as an Earthday Festival, a Hispanic Cultural Arts Event, and a Gay Pride Picnic. However, the city refused to provide free services for the Gentalas and their National Day of Prayer event, citing "separation of church and state."

A federal district court rejected the Gentalas’ claims, but a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed that ruling by a 2-1 vote in April 2000. The city asked for a rehearing, which was granted, and an eleven-judge panel ruled against the Gentalas in March 2001.

In June 2001 – just two-and-a-half months after the Ninth Circuit court of appeals issued its final ruling – the Supreme Court decided the case of Good News Club v. Milford Central School. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that denying a group equal access to government facilities just because the group planned to communicate a religious message violated the federal constitutional right to free speech. The Supreme Court also ruled that the constitutional ban against an establishment of religion did not justify the denial of equal access to religious speakers.

The ACLJ then filed a petition with the Supreme Court in July 2001 asking the high court to review the Gentalas’ case – arguing the appeals court ruling in Gentala was inconsistent with the decision in Good News Club. In today’s order, the Supreme Court vacated the 9th Circuit ruling, sent the case back to the federal appeals court and directed the court to reconsider the case in light of Good News Club.

The federal appeals court must now reconsider the case and render a new decision.

The American Center for Law and Justice is an international public interest law firm and educational organization that focuses on constitutional issues and specializes in pro-family, pro-life, and pro-liberty cases.

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