Civil Liberties The National Newsletter of the ACLU #380, Spring 1994 (c) 1994 American Ci

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Civil Liberties The National Newsletter of the ACLU #380, Spring 1994 (c) 1994 American Civil Liberties Union A Reluctant "Radical" Is Making History By Phil Gutis Margaret Gilleo, a former Junior Leaguer and bank official in Ladue, Missouri, is not someone normally accused of stirring controversy. But today, with a major free speech case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Gilleo stands accused of pushing "radical" views on her neighbors. Recently interviewed in her living room, a grand piano and antique tapestries in the background, Gilleo related how in December 1990 she had joined a church-based grass roots coalition that hoped to persuade Congress to "give peace a chance" on the eve of the Persian Gulf War. One part of the coalition's action plan called for participants to place 24-by-36-inch signs on their lawns, saying: "Say No to War in the Persian Gulf -- Call Congress Now." With barely a thought about the First Amendment, Gilleo erected her sign. Within days, the sign was vandalized and then stolen. When Gilleo reported the theft to the police, they casually informed her that it was she who had broken the law. It seems that Ladue, like many other communities around the country, had passed a municipal ordinance years earlier that essentially banned all yard signs, except for those with limited commercial purposes, such as "for sale" signs. The law, however, had been rarely -- if ever -- enforced before Gilleo posted her explicitly political message. Gilleo went to the city council to request a variance under the ordinance, but said: "When I asked the town for permission to put up the sign, the first question was, `What does the sign say?' When I told them, they said, `Oh no, you can't do that in Ladue.'" Contacted by the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, Gilleo initially rejected assistance, thinking that she had made her point. But on second thought, she was happy to have the ACLU challenge Ladue's ordinance in federal court as a content-based regulation of speech. "We are talking about a citizen's right to express her own views on her own property on an important public issue," said ACLU cooperating attorney Jerry Greiman. "That is fundamental political speech of the kind that the First Amendment was designed to protect." Confronted with a preliminary injunction, Ladue amended its ordinance. The ACLU then filed an amended complaint and won a permanent injunction against the new ordinance. The city appealed, first, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which affirmed the district court ruling; then to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard the case in February. A ruling is expected by the close of the Court's term. -------------------- Phil Gutis is Media Relations Director in the ACLU's Public Education Department. ============================================================================ ACLU Takes On Religious Right Over the past year, the resourceful Christian Coalition and its legal arm, the American Center for Law and Justice, have redoubled their efforts to insinuate religious practices into the nation's public schools. They have churned out a steady stream of letters, brochures and lawsuits to garner support for official school prayer, and both overt and covert Christian holiday observances. To counter these efforts, the ACLU's Public Education Department has been mounting a communications campaign to raise public consciousness about the importance of keeping church and state separate in the nation's public affairs. To date, we have: > published a variety of special materials, including an ACLU Legal Bulletin, "The Establishment Clause and Public Schools," and a briefer for students on religious freedom; > mailed information in bulk to public school superintendents, school board members, and public and institutional libraries; > produced a 34-minute video called "America's Constitutional Heritage: Religion and Our Public Schools" and distributed it to thousands of educators and parents; > placed op ed articles on school prayer in national, regional and local newspapers; > placed ACLU speakers on more than 150 radio talk shows; > for the first time, staffed a booth at the Annual Exposition of the National School Boards Association. As we go to press, the Public Education Department is completing production of a mailing to more than 7,000 school board members urging that they resist any efforts to stage "student initiated" prayers at graduation ceremonies. -Loren Siegel ============================================================= ACLU Free Reading Room | A publications and information resource of the gopher:// | American Civil Liberties Union National Office | | "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"


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