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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Archdiocese of Detroit Intimidating Catholics and Chilling Protected Free Speech?

As past posts have indicated (see here, here, and here), the Archdiocese of Detroit is currently attempting to enforce an administrative policy in order to prevent third-parties from distributing election materials on parish and archdiocesan properties. Reports indicate that the Archdiocese of Detroit's policy is primarily being used to prevent members of the lay organization Catholics in the Public Square from distributing its election materials (CPS' materials are entirely faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church and highlight Governor Jennifer Granholm's pro-abortion and pro-homosexual positions) on parish property.

My sources indicate that in addition to preventing CPS volunteers from distributing their leaflets on parish property, at least one pastor has intimidated a CPS member and prevented her from passing out leaflets on the public sidewalk outside of St. Joseph's Parish in Trenton, Michigan. (Note -- This is not the first time this has occurred at this particular parish).

Public sidewalks are public forums and are protected under the First Amendment. CPS volunteers should not be intimidated by attempts to have them ejected from these public forums. They have a First Amendment right to be there.

As an additional matter, I believe it is important to consider that the Archdiocese of Detroit's policy of preventing leafletting on parish property, which ostensibly exists to protect the Archdiocese's tax-exempt status, may now be being used in violation of the First Amendment rights of the faithful. If the Archdiocese is truly concerned about protecting itself from legal liability (as opposed to imposing a political agenda -- which I suggest is the true reason for their policy in opposition to leafletting), it should clearly instruct parishes regarding the difference between private and public forums. Additionally, the Archdiocese should clearly instruct its employees that public forums (such as sidewalks near churches) are protected under the First Amendment and that violations of the First Amendment could expose the Archdiocese of Detroit to legal liability.

UPDATE: Thanks for the quick comments. I have revised the post to reflect that because the Archdiocese of Detroit and its agents are not state actors, it cannot be held legally liable for First Amendment violations. Nevertheless, the reports of intimidation in order to stifle legitimate and protected First Amendment speech remain extremely troubling.