Jewish World Review
June 19, 2000 /16 Sivan, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE NATION'S CAPITAL is a speech-free zone. This may be hard to believe, what with all the hot air produced here by political blowhards and blow-dried pundits, filibustering blusterers and professional mouth-flappers. But in the heart of the district and on the sidewalks outside the Supreme Court, the chilling message to people of faith is loud and clear: Sit down, shut up, and keep your views to yourself.
Last week, city officials tore down a lawn sign in front of D.C.'s Lincoln Park United Methodist Church. With barely two hours' notice, a public works crew descended on the church and drove off with the 4 ½-by-6 foot billboard. Pastor Harold Lewis told me his church "jumped through all the hoops" required to erect the sign, which carried scriptural citations and sermon topics.
Neighbors complained the sign violated historic preservation standards, which the city neglected to review before granting the church a public-use permit. But the church's leading critics admit it was the religious content that really spurred them to action. On the day the sign was confiscated, it read: "Was it Adam and Eve or Adam and Steve? Genesis 2:18-25." The neighbors objected that the font size was too big and the message too offensive to the gay community.
Pastor Lewis noted the obvious double standard in a Washington Post interview: "If the gay community can rally and have a movement to support their right to a cause, why can't we freely express our beliefs? The sign did not suggest hate. It was not inflammatory. It invited gays to worship. They need to hear the Gospel like anyone else." Lewis also pointed out to me that his sermon actually covered much broader ground than homosexuality: "It was my time to speak up and teach about sexual immorality in general – not just homosexuality, but fornication, adultery, and sexual deviancy as well. The sign is what I used to communicate, to attract people outside the congregation into the church."
The government's interference with his ability to preach his Biblically-based beliefs, Lewis says, "is plain and simple harassment and, yes, persecution." Not to mention incompetence and virtual theft. The city has somehow misplaced the $5,000 sign; the church has retained legal counsel to recoup its costs. "We've heard this kind of thing is happening all over the district," an exasperated Lewis told me.
He's right. In another part of town, under a majestic façade where the motto "EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER THE LAW" is inscribed, religious activists have been silenced in the name of maintaining "order and decorum." In April, 22 peaceful, pro-life demonstrators were arrested and held in jail 12 hours for holding up signs on the public sidewalks outside the U.S. Supreme Court building.
The confiscated signs depicted partial-birth abortion graphically – and with brutal honesty. One showed a fetus whose head had been decapitated. As a courtesy, the protestors had notified court police weeks in advance about the nature and size of the signs. Law enforcement officials said the posters were legal and that the group's First Amendment rights would be protected. For two days, the pro-lifers displayed the signs and held prayer vigils without incident.
On the morning of the third day, however – the day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a widely-publicized, Nebraska partial-birth abortion case -- a last-minute edict was issued by the federal court marshal. Without public debate or public notice, "Regulation Six" immediately outlawed signs that just happened to meet the exact specifications of those used by the pro-lifers. Ironically, the hastily-drafted court regulation renders illegal dozens of parking and traffic signs on court property erected by the government itself. But only the pro-life signs were swept from the streets, Tiananmen-style. Criminal charges against the protesters were later dropped.
"Clearly," Rev. Patrick Mahony of the Christian Defense Coalition told me, "the government initiated this act of censorship because it was disturbed by the content of the signs. If we had held up signs supportive of gay rights or the environment, there wouldn't have been a problem." Mahony's group filed a legal challenge to the regulation last week. A hearing is set for tomorrow.
And so it goes inside the Beltway: Preaching to the choir will land you
public office, political influence, and prime-time media coverage.
Preaching G-d's word will land you in
06/16/00: Dads, daughters, and PETA's spoilsports