The ACLU has taken bold action since our last newsletter. On July 22 I attended a hearing at the Multnomah County Courthouse. The ACLU claimed that the mayor and city of Gresham should be held in contempt of Court for not acting quickly enough to force Gresham residents to stop praying and leave City Hall on the National Day of Prayer May 7.
Gresham resident Gloria MacCracken initiated the original action against the city of Gresham, claiming the gathering would damage her. (What damage can be done to someone by a prayer meeting she is free not to attend is still unclear to me, but hey, I'm not a lawyer.) The ACLU, led by attorney Charles Hinkle, took up her cause and asked for a restraining order from Judge Robert Jones. Jones complied, ordering the City of Gresham not to allow the May 7 prayer gathering.
To obey the order, the City of Gresham formally withdrew its permission for the event. The Day of Prayer began with a police Lieutenant saying to the 500 adults and children, "You are commanded to leave." After two pastors and Rep. Ron Sunseri said a few words, and songs were sung, people gathered into small groups to pray. After a few minutes the Gresham Chief of Police told Pastor Gil Harder to end the meeting. A closing song was sung at 12:25, and the meeting, scheduled to go till 1:00, ended. (People were still arriving, as this was a "come anytime during the hour" event.)
This, however, wasn't good enough for the ACLU. They felt the Gresham police should have immediately enforced the restraining order by physically removing people from the property. Hence the July 22 hearing, in which Charles Hinkle played what he considered to be a most incriminating video tape of the gathering, made by a private investigator. The tape showed (no, I am not making this up) that heads were bowed and some people's hands were raised, clearly indicating the forbidden (wanton?) act of prayer. (Of course, you can talk to any person, real or imaginary, on City Hall grounds—any person except God.) Not only that, Hinkle pointed out, but they were singing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and "Revive us O Lord" (Can you imagine Americans daring to sing such songs on property paid for by our tax dollars?)
Another interesting fact surfaced at the trial—the plaintiff whose cause the ACLU nobly rose up to defend, Gloria MacCracken, turns out to be an ACLU employee! Hinkle presented into evidence a program that contained Bible verses and religious songs, with the shocking testimony by the ACLU's private investigator that it had actually been distributed at the May 5 gathering. With the drug war, AIDS crisis, teen suicide, gangs, violence and soaring crime in our cities, isn't it reassuring to know the ACLU is out there protecting this society from prayer and religious songs?
Judge Jones finally ruled that the mayor and city of Gresham were not in contempt, since they had in fact stopped the prayer meeting, even if a bit late. The ruling was good news for the city and the mayor, but the real battle—for the rights of Christians to have equal access to public facilities, and to exercise free speech—is still ahead.
The ACLU, again led by Charles Hinkle, is seeking to impose a permanent restraining order on the city of Gresham, banning any prayer or religious activities on city facilities—despite the fact they are used by other groups.
According to Mississippi's American Family Association, this would be the first ban of its kind in the country, setting a statewide and national precedent. The AFA therefore requested to add two "interveners" to the case. Gil Harder, pastor of Crossroads Bible Church, and myself (Randy Alcorn) were added as defendants at the July 22 hearing. The AFA attorneys will be defending us and the Christian community we represent. The case is scheduled to go to court the end of September.