The ACLU believes that the right of every American to practice his or her own religion, or no religion at all, is one of the most fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Constitution’s framers understood that religious liberty can flourish only if the government leaves religion alone.
What's Happening in Ohio
There is a lot of buzz across the nation about legislation intended to protect religious freedom. Ohio House Bill 376, known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), was similar to legislation proposed in Arizona, Kansas, and Mississippi. They are all of the same mold – actually meant to legalize discrimination, and share the same potential consequences. Following a media frenzy around the Arizona bill, Ohio’s RFRA was indefinitely postponed. For more information on the Ohio bill, read our RFRA fact sheet.
The Ohio RFRA would have substantially expanded opportunities for individuals to file a lawsuit if they felt that their religious liberty was burdened, even in the slightest way. For example, someone could have brought a lawsuit if they received a parking ticket during a worship service, or an employee could have refused to fill a birth control prescription if their religion condemns birth control.
The introduction of H.B. 376 and similar RFRA legislation in other states is not necessary to protect individual religious liberty, because the Bill of Rights has been doing that since the founding of our country.
The ACLU has worked for decades to protect true religious liberty. We have fought too hard for too long to allow individuals, for any reason, to be given a free pass to violate the basic civil rights of others and ignore the laws they do not wish to follow.
True religious liberty is the freedom to practice your faith without government interference, not the right to impose your beliefs on someone else and harm them if they do not conform.
Recent ACLU of Ohio cases highlight the organization’s commitment to both defending the right to practice religion and preventing the government from supporting religion. In State of Ohio v. Daley, the ACLU of Ohio defended John Daley, who had told state employees that God would punish them. Although Daley made clear that he was not threatening them, he was charged with menacing and other crimes, and was hospitalized and medicated against his will because of his “unorthodox” religious beliefs. After several months, the ACLU of Ohio secured his release.
In ACLU v. DeWeese, the ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit to prevent Richland County Common Pleas Court Judge James DeWeese from displaying a poster supporting the Ten Commandments over “Humanist Precepts.” The ACLU of Ohio sued and prevailed in federal court, asserting that the poster was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. In February 2011, a panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with the lower court’s ruling. In October 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Judge DeWeese’s appeal, effectively upholding the decision that his poster is unconstitutional. Following the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear an appeal, the ACLU of Ohio asked for, and was granted attorney’s fees and costs. This marked the second time in a decade the federal courts have ruled Judge DeWeese’s courtroom posters were a violation of religious liberty. In 2002, the courts ruled Judge DeWeese remove a similar religious document from the courtroom wall.
In August 2011, two board members of the Springboro Community City School District asked the district to consider ways to integrate creationism into school curriculum. The ACLU of Ohio encouraged the district to give up these plans, which would surely lead to expensive and unnecessary litigation. As a result of pressure for civil liberties groups, the board members have rescinded their plan. The ACLU of Ohio continues to monitor the situation.
In 2002, the Ohio state school board approved a plan that opened the door to teaching intelligent design, a version of creationism that posits an unnamed “designer” is responsible for creating life. However, they rescinded the plan in February 2006, after a school board in Dover, Pennsylvania lost a legal challenge in a similar case.
Since that decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover, proponents now emphasize “teaching the controversy.” They argue that teaching evolution without criticism and alternatives violates the principle of objectivity. The scientific method, they claim, requires consideration of all possible theories, including the supernatural, unless proven false. However, nearly all scientists reject this argument because metaphysical explanations are unverifiable and unscientific.