ACLU Sues Secretary of State Over Holiday Display – Fox 16 News

Updated: 12/11/2009 8:42 am Published: 12/10/2009 9:46 pm

An Arkansas group is suing Secretary of State Charlie Daniels. Group members claim Daniels violated their first amendment rights by denying them access to put up a display at the state capitol.

The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers is a non-profit group that doesn’t believe in any god. The group seeks to promote its ideals, such as the winter solstice holiday. The Freethinkers submitted paperwork two years in a row to promote their message at the capitol and were denied each time.

Temporary holiday displays are allowed if a group sends a written request to Secretary of State Charlie Daniels’ office.  “They created a public forum, meaning no one could pick and choose which displays went up based on their viewpoint, but that’s exactly what’s happening now,” said Rita Sklar with the ACLU.

Daniels denied the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers’ request for a winter solstice display, so the ACLU is suing saying Daniels violated the group’s rights.  “They’re allowing one display but not another. They’re saying it’s the tone but we are sure that it’s really just the message and that’s unconstitutional,” Sklar said.

There is a list of requirements a group must meet before placing a display at the capitol. The ACLU says The Freethinkers meet all of the requirements.  “They were still turned down because the Secretary of State didn’t like what they had to say,” Sklar said.

When called, Daniels’ office had no comment. A letter was sent to the Freethinkers saying it is Daniels’ role to maintain “proper order and decorum on the state capitol grounds.”

“I’d like to know what’s disorderly about essentially a kiosk with information about the winter solstice.  You’d like to think you live in a free country. We’re out there celebrating our freedom, fighting for our freedom and denying it to our own people here at home,” Sklar added.

The Freethinkers say they even asked to meet with representatives from the Secretary of State’s office. Group members say they were told “there’s not going to be a meeting.” The ACLU’s attorneys met with the Secretary of State’s office then filed a lawsuit filed in federal court.

Once approved, the state requires groups:

  • maintain their temporary display
  • make sure it doesn’t interfere with traffic
  • have insurance.

The guidelines do not mention what the group’s message can or can not promote.

Arkansas Society of Freethinkers
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