City of Aberdeen Backs Down From Censoring an Announcement on a Public Reader Board Regarding the Private Showing of the "Jesus" Film

Jan 5, 2005

The City of Aberdeen Parks and Recreation Department backed away from censoring an announcement on a public reader board regarding the private showing of the “Jesus” film. When Joyce Cunningham, Director of Child Evangelism Fellowship of Pacific Harbors, Washington, (“CEF”), inquired about posting an announcement on a public reader board about the film, she was told that because of “separation of church and state,” the City could not permit the word “Jesus” to be posted on the board. Ms. Cunningham and CEF are represented by Liberty Counsel, a public interest law firm and educational organization.

The City’s “Community Event Sign Rules and Policies” permits the posting of announcements on the public reader boards, so long as the event is open to the public and the announcement is approved by the Aberdeen Parks and Recreation Department. The sole reason why Ms. Cunningham was not permitted to post the announcement of the “Jesus” film was due to the word “Jesus,” which park officials deemed a “church and state” violation. The showing of the film was to be open to the public. Following the denial, Liberty Counsel issued a demand letter to City officials, stating that the City’s censorship of the private message on the public reader board about the Christian film was unconstitutional. After receiving the demand letter, the City backed down and allowed the announcement to be posted. CEF, which provides a Christian ministry to children ages 5 to 12, was able to announce and then show the film to numerous children who received parental permission to view the movie, which was produced by Campus Crusade for Christ. Ms. Cunningham stated that 17 of the children who viewed the film made express Christian commitments.

Mathew Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel commented, “Private speech about Jesus is not unconstitutional. Religious speech is not an orphan to the Constitution. Protecting private religious viewpoints was the motivating factor behind the First Amendment.”