Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Bible Is "Hate Speech," Part II

'Bible Billboard' Case Being Heard Today in The Big Apple.

Previously on the 522: Bible 'Bigoted,' Not Welcome in NYC?.

In full ...

A federal appeals court in New York will once again be hearing arguments in a case involving a church in Staten Island that was banned from displaying a billboard because it contained a Bible verse condemning homosexuality.

In 2000, a church called Keyword Ministries contracted to post a billboard on Staten Island containing one scripture verse in four translations -- "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind. It is abomination" (Leviticus 18:22, KJV). The billboard was signed: "I AM your Creator."

After a great deal of public outcry, the president of the borough publicly said the billboard served no useful purpose and was essentially "hate speech." He then wrote a letter to the billboard company, arguing the sign was a message of intolerance and "not welcome" in the borough. Later the sign company took it down.

In September 2000, the Center for Law & Policy (CLP) -- the legal arm of the American Family Association -- filed a lawsuit on behalf of the church, claiming a government entity exercised its influence to suppress free speech. The suit has been dismissed twice by the federal district court for the Eastern District of New York. It is being heard again today (August 8) before the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mike DePrimo, senior litigation counsel for the CLP, is appearing before the Second Circuit to present the case. He says the case is a clear-cut example of religious censorship. "The city cited their anti-discrimination law as the basis for their action," DePrimo explains. "They essentially said that stating that homosexuality is a sin violated laws against intolerance."

In fact, however, the city was promoting religious intolerance, says the attorney. "What we like about the case is that this is not the pastor's personal sentiments; this is pure scripture," DePrimo says. "He simply quoted the scriptures [and] put them up on the billboard. And, essentially, the city's attack is on the Holy Bible; it's not on religious speech as such. It's on the Holy Bible itself."

In a press release the legal group says it intends to question whether it is constitutionally permissible to characterize the Bible as "bigoted" and to condemn it as conveying "a message of intolerance that is not welcome" in New York City. CLP chief counsel Steve Crampton, also in New York to argue the case, believes the case is an example of the continuing attack on religious freedoms in the U.S.

"This case presents the clearest example yet of the continuing erosion of the constitutional protections for churches and religion against the incessant onslaught of the homosexual agenda," says Crampton. "The actions of the city communicated unequivocally that traditional religious beliefs about homosexuality will be censored, even when simply quoting scripture."

The CLP attorneys say if they fail in today's bid before the Second Circuit, they intend to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case is Okwedy v. Molinari.