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ACLJ Urges Missouri Officials to Keep Voluntary Bible Study in Place at County Courthouse.

WASHINGTON -- The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), specializing in constitutional law, said today it has sent an informational letter to officials in St. Charles County, Missouri urging them to keep in place a voluntary Bible study that's been taking place in the county courthouse - a Bible study that critics are trying to remove.

"This is clearly a case where the voluntary Bible study is protected by the First Amendment," said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ. "Simply because someone disagrees with the Bible study does not mean the government has the authority to remove it. In fact, the voluntary Bible study is protected speech and the government is prohibited from taking action to end that speech. We're hopeful county officials refrain from taking any discriminatory action aimed at ending this voluntary Bible study. We stand ready to provide any legal assistance needed to keep this Bible study in place."

The controversy began when a St. Charles attorney wrote a letter to county officials complaining about the voluntary Bible study for judges, lawyers, and other courthouse employees. The group meets once a week and has been doing so since 2002. The attorney claims by permitting the Bible study to meet county officials are "forcing the taxpayers of the county of St. Charles to support these Christian gentlemen in their avocation and beliefs."

County officials will meet with Associate Circuit Judge Matthew E.P. Thornhill - who heads up the Bible study group - along with others - to discuss the issue at a meeting on March 5th.

In a letter sent to county officials, the ACLJ points out that the voluntary Bible study is protected by the First Amendment and urges county officials to refrain from taking any discriminatory action aimed at ending the Bible study.

The ACLJ letter asserts: "An objective observer of the Bible study could not conclude that the government was endorsing the content of the group's private speech. This is not a case where any government employee or private citizen is required to participate in religious activity or where the speech is part of an official work-related meeting. There is no suggestion that employees have been harassed or intimidated or that the Bible study has disrupted the efficient performance of governmental functions. It is clear that the First Amendment prohibits the censorship of religious speech solely because someone may find that speech 'offensive.'"

The ACLJ letter "strongly encourages" county officials "to continue to allow the voluntary Bible study for lawyers to meet at the county courthouse." The letter concludes: "The First Amendment does not require the censorship of private religious speech but actually protects such religious expression from government censorship on the basis of its content."

The ACLJ letter is posted online at www.aclj.org.

Led by Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow, the American Center for Law and Justice specializes in constitutional law and is based in Washington, D.C. The ACLJ is online at www.aclj.org.
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Publication:Business Wire
Date:Feb 14, 2007
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