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By Tristan 

Complaints about ACLU are ridiculous


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I do not intend a comprehensive defense of the American Civil Liberties Union because I am not familiar with all the cases in which it is involved. But I am quite familiar with the local case involving Pas to r Tim Ze rge r o f the Community Alliance Church and the complaints against his sectarian prayer at the Montana State University-Northern graduation from faculty and community members.

This situation seems to be the source of the ridiculous — if amusing — complaints by Rick Dow and others about the ACLU.

Help from the ACLU was sought to research the law involved in the concern with Pastor Zerger's prayer. Both federal and state law are crystal clear on this matter. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court held that invocations and benedictions in the form of prayer were unconstitutional in public schools. The Montana Constitution is even more explicit, saying in Article X, Section 7, Nondiscrimination in Education, "No sectarian tenets shall be advocated in any public educational institution of the state."

Freedom of speech is a constitutional right, but it has legal limitations.

As Chief Justice Oliver Wendel l Holmes of the U.S. Supreme Court is famously quoted as saying, "Shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater when there is no fire is not legally protected." Every state has laws against libel, limiting freedom of speech, and against slander, likewise limiting speech.

Limiting religious speech in public educational institutions is not a unique limitation of freedom of speech.

In the local situation, the ACLU has only pointed out the law and urged that it be adhered to. Those supporting Pastor Zerger and urging Northern to continue such prayers are advocating that both federal and Montana laws be broken.

Instead of advocating lawlessness, Dow — and those Evangelicals who urge that Wendy Warburton continue to campaign during church services — should refer to the Montana Constitution, XIV, 7-10, the Amendment Process. Then, to get their way, these advocates of lawlessness would also need to amend the U.S. Constitution or get Supreme Court to reverse its own decision. Maybe, to do so, they can get the ACLU's help.

Bill Thackeray Havre


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