ACLJ Asks Supreme Court to Hear National Day of Prayer Case From Arizona

ACLJ Asks Supreme Court to Hear National Day of Prayer Case From Arizona
July 17, 2001

(Washington, DC) – The American Center for Law and Justice, an international public interest law firm, today filed a petition for certiorari at the U.S. Supreme Court asking the court to hear an equal access case from Arizona and to overturn a federal appeals court decision that said 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.

“This is a critical issue involving the First Amendment,” said Walter M. Weber, Senior Litigation Counsel of the ACLJ, who is one of the ACLJ attorneys representing the Gentalas. “It is clear that religious organizations are entitled to receive the same treatment afforded to other organizations. The Supreme Court has upheld the rights of religious organizations in the past and we are hopeful the high court will take a close look at this case. It is our hope that – at the very least – the Supreme Court will vacate the appellate court ruling and send the case back for further consideration in light of its recent decision in the case of Good News Club v. Milford Central School. We believe the court has formulated a very clear roadmap when it comes to equal access and we are determined that the First Amendment rights of our client must be protected.”

Last month, in the Good News case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a vote of 6-to-3 that a federal appeals court was wrong when it prevented a New York Christian youth group from using a public school facility after hours.

In the Arizona case, the ACLJ filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Gentalas after they were told by the City of Tucson that they – unlike numerous other event sponsors – could not receive city services free of charge for their 1997 event, the National Day of Prayer. City officials invoked a city policy that prohibited city services to be provided at no charge for “events held in direct support of religious organizations.” The lawsuit contended the policy was discriminatory because it excluded only religious organizations and religious messages from receiving free city services.

A federal court ruled in favor of the City and the Gentalas appealed. In a decision released in April 2000, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned the lower court ruling and determined that the City engaged in viewpoint discrimination violating the First Amendment rights of the Gentalas. The federal appeals court ruled that the City should not have disallowed its free services otherwise available to the Gentalas for the National Day of Prayer event in 1997. In March 2001, however, an eleven-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned the decision of the three-judge panel.

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