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
Cities across Ohio have been criminalizing panhandling through outdated ordinances that violate the First Amendment and that criminalize the poor. The ACLU of Ohio has successfully litigated to strike down these unconstitutional ordinances in both Cleveland and Akron, and has negotiated the repeal of similar laws in many more Ohio cities.
The First Amendment provides the same protection to all people; we all have the right to express ourselves in public spaces, including when we need to ask for help. The government does not have the right to censor certain types of speech just because it does not agree with the message. Moreover, policies that silence the poor do not address poverty or homelessness effectively—actually, they exacerbate these issues. The ACLU of Ohio will continue to fight anti-panhandling laws throughout the state. We will continue to preserve the First Amendment rights of all people, and to fight the criminalization of poverty in our state.
True religious liberty can only flourish when the government does not blur the line between the separation of church and state, a principle founded in the First Amendment of the Constitution. During the holiday season people may have questions about how public entities such as schools, libraries, or courthouses celebrate or participate in outward religious expression. In order to help provide answers, we’ve created some helpful resources to ensure that the government is not favoring one religion over others, or favoring religion over non-religion.
Posted to Religious Liberty,
The First Amendment ensures that clergy of all faiths can perform marriage duties in a manner fitting with their beliefs––including refusing to solemnize same-sex marriages— without fear of government intrusion. Bills—such as the Pastor Protection Act and Religious Freedom Restoration Act—that open the door for discrimination against LGBTQ people under the guise of protecting religious liberty are unnecessary. LGBTQ rights, marriage equality, and religious liberty can all be protected. They are not mutually exclusive.
Since 9/11, Muslims have been subjected to unlawful state surveillance, profiling, and deportation for imagined threats to the United States. This treatment has permanent consequences for individuals and their families and is a stain on our collective conscience. In his first days in office, President Donald Trump acted on his campaign promise of “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” by implementing anti-immigrant executive orders.
By January 27th, 2017, three executive orders were signed by the president concerning immigration. The “Muslim Ban” restricted immigration from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for 90 days, suspended all refugee entry for 120 days, and suspended Syrian refugee entry indefinitely. After numerous court cases, including one filed by the ACLU, federal courts stepped in to stop the “Muslim Ban” from being implemented.
Weeks later, the president signed a revised executive order, dubbed by the media “Muslim Ban 2.0.” The revisions removed Iraq from the list of banned countries as well as language about preferential treatment to non-Muslims, and exempted all visa and green-card holders. It also replaced the complete ban of Syrian refugees with a 120-day freeze. What stayed the same? The discriminatory and unconstitutional core of the executive order. On March 16, federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland stopped the Trump administration from refusing to grant visas from six predominantly-Muslim countries on the grounds of religious discrimination. In Hawaii, the judge went further to also stop the freeze of Syrian refugee entry.
On June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari which means they will hear arguments on both cases in the fall. Additionally, the Supreme Court has allowed part of the ban to go into effect. Starting June 29, the government can ban people who are subject to the ban and do not have a “credible claim of bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” For example, visa holders, lawful permanent residents and dual nationals cannot be denied entry.
The ACLU will remain vigilant as we fight against unconstitutional and discriminatory legislation, policy, and executive orders. Learn More
The ACLU created this informational guide to assist Ohioans in having productive conversations with their United States Senators and Representatives at Town Hall meetings. We highlighted some of the most pressing issues of 2017, including but not limited to the Muslim Ban, Sanctuary Cities, and Border Protection. We also included sample questions that may be of use to constituents and grass roots organizations. Please feel free to share with other members in your community!
In 1993, the American Civil Liberties Union supported passage of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a law initially passed to protect the exercise of religious belief, including by vulnerable religious minorities.
The act gained ACLU support and became federal law after Native Americans were fired from their jobs and denied unemployment benefits because they had used peyote in their religious ceremonies.
But, for more than 20 years, the ACLU became increasingly concerned about how the RFRA also could be used―and has been used―to discriminate against others. Here’s an example. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says the RFRA allows it to use taxpayer funds to help unaccompanied immigrant minors, many of whom have been raped, despite the fact that it refuses to provide them access to abortion and contraception services as required by law. It even claims Catholic groups don’t have to tell the government when they have a teen who needs care (because then the government might step in and help).
The act often is used now to discriminate against women, LGBT people, and others on “religious grounds.” And this is increasing even more now that the Supreme Court has ruled same-sex couples have the freedom to marry, with some states passing their own version of the law as justification to denied service, employ or provide housing to LGBT individuals.
The ACLU is withdrawing its support for the RFRA, at least until Congress amends the RFRA so that it cannot be used as a defense for discrimination.
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.