At least a dozen police officers arrived in more than seven marked vehicles and then arrested, jailed, shackled, and/or strip searched 18 pro-life advocates, including the three women, after they held signs and shared their message along a public street.
"The state shouldn't persecute Christians for expressing their beliefs on important social issues, nor deny them their constitutional rights," said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot.
"This incident paints an ugly picture of the state of religious freedom and free speech in America today."
"The truth of the matter is that our clients were heckled, arrested, imprisoned, shackled, and strip searched twice for exercising their First Amendment rights," said ADF-allied attorney Daniel Cox, who is serving as local counsel.
"No excuse exists for how our young clients were treated."
At least 12 police officers handcuffed 18 peaceful participants in Defend Life's "Face the Truth" Pro-life Tour on August 1 of this year and denied them a reason for their arrests. They had relocated to Bel Air after being told by officers to move from another location for not having a permit to engage in free speech activities. Three young female participants - including teenagers - were subjected to two rounds of strip searches.
The first search took place in the police station parking lot in front of other males. A female officer pulled out the young ladies' shirt collars to inspect their breasts before reaching down their pants to feel around their waistlines. The Harford County Detention Center administered the second strip search after the women were transferred there. A female officer took the women one by one into a bathroom and ordered them to lift up their shirts and brassieres.
Officials cast the pro-life participants in leg irons, denied them permission to call parents until after midnight, and did not release any of them until the following day. None were informed that attorneys Steve Peroutka and Scott Whiteman had been prohibited from having any contact with them after arriving at the station earlier that night to assist them.
On August 12, the state decided not to pursue the charges against them, which included loitering, disorderly conduct, and failure to obey a lawful order. They were never charged for a permit offence.
The complaint was filed with the US District Court for the District of Maryland, Northern Division. The case is styled Swagler v. Harford County.
The Thomas More Society of Chicago and the American Catholic Lawyers Association represent some of the other pro-life participants.
The Rev Professor Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society, believes banning creationism from the classroom is likely to backfire with children who hold sincere beliefs.
He wants teachers to be open to discussing creationist ideas. Some creationists reject the concept of evolution and suggest that the Earth is only 10,000 years old.
At the same time they should endeavour to explain scientific theories such as natural selection and the Big Bang.
Prof Reiss admitted he used to be "evangelical" about spreading the word of evolution when he taught biology in schools.
But he added: "I realised that simply banging on about evolution and natural selection didn't lead some pupils to change their minds at all. Now I would be more content simply for them to understand it as one way of understanding the universe."
Speaking at the British Association Festival of Science at the University of Liverpool, he said it was better for science teachers not to see creationism as a "misconception" but as a "world view".
Around 10% of British schoolchildren come from families with sincere creationist beliefs, said Prof Reiss, an ordained Church of England minister. In the US, the proportion of creationist schoolchildren was 40%.
Many of these children came from Muslim backgrounds or families with fundamental Christian views. Teachers in science lessons ought to be willing to talk about creationism if students brought the subject up, said Prof Reiss.
At the same time as making clear creationism is not accepted by the scientific community, they should convey a message of respect that does not "denigrate or ridicule" the children's beliefs
A federal judge ruled on Friday that a San Diego high school teacher has a free speech right to display patriotic banners in his classroom with messages such as “God Bless America,” “In God We Trust,” and “One Nation Under God.” School officials had ordered the banners removed on the grounds they promoted a “Judeo-Christian” viewpoint.
Brad Johnson, a high school math teacher, had displayed such red, white and blue banners in his Poway Unified School District high school for twenty-five years before they were ordered removed. The school district allowed classroom displays by other teachers that included posters of Buddhist and Islamic messages, Tibetan prayer flags, and other displays.
The Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center filed a federal lawsuit against the school district on Johnson’s behalf, arguing that the school district’s actions amounted to government hostility toward a specific religion. The lawsuit also alleged that the school district violated Johnson’s free speech rights by imposing a viewpoint-based restriction upon him, according to a Tuesday press release from the Thomas More Law Center.
The Poway Unified School District responded to the lawsuit with a motion seeking to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim.
Federal District Judge Robert T. Benitez ruled that the lawsuit may proceed, stating in his decision:
“Whether described as speech from a religious perspective or speech about American history and culture, through display of his classroom banners, Johnson was simply exercising his free speech rights on subjects that were otherwise permitted in the limited public forum created by Defendants and in a manner that did not cause substantial disorder in the classroom. Thus, Johnson has made out a clear claim for relief for an ongoing violation of his First Amendment free speech rights.”
Robert Muise, the Thomas More Law Center lawyer handling the case, praised the decision by saying the judge’s “strongly worded” opinion “sends a clear message to school districts across the country that hostility toward our nation’s religious heritage is contrary to our constitution.”
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel for the Law Center, added his own comments, saying “Many public schools exhibit a knee-jerk hostility towards Christianity and seek to cleanse our nation’s classrooms of our religious heritage while promoting atheism or other religions under the guise of cultural diversity.”
If the lawsuit is successful, the speech restriction will be overturned and Johnson will be allowed to display his banners.