The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit has reversed a federal judge’s order to remove all religious displays from a church-run contract postal unit in Manchester, Conn. The court provided certain minimal guidelines for the church-run store to follow but ruled that it does not have to cleanse its facility of its Christian elements.
“Private Christian entities shouldn’t be censored for displaying information about their own religious ministries, on their own properties, simply because they participate in contracts with the government,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeff Shafer. “We’re pleased that the 2nd Circuit agreed that the First Amendment does not call for a wholesale religious cleansing of the church’s speech from its own facility.”
The judges for the 2nd Circuit wrote in the opinion that they “require no more than that the postal counter be free of religious material, and that visual cues distinguish the space operating as a postal facility from the space functioning as purely private property.... [T]he removal of all religious messages would render the premises a single-use post office, and would prevent the second legitimate use to which the premises are dedicated.... For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the district court is vacated....”
A customer, Bertram Cooper, sued the U.S. Postal Service and the Manchester, Conn., postmaster for allegedly violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Cooper argued that religious signs, literature, prayer cards, and other materials inside a contract provider store--privately owned and operated by the Full Gospel Interdenominational Church--constitutes a government endorsement of religion.
At a hearing before the 2nd Circuit in March, Shafer argued that a federal district court in Connecticut should not have ruled that the church-owned postal store, named Sincerely Yours, Inc., is a government entity, but rather a private entity that should not have its speech about its own ministries censored within its own facility. The USPS awarded the store a contract to sell postal services to the local community in 2001. The USPS commonly awards such contracts to spare the government the expense and responsibility of maintaining a facility and staff of its own and to allow a greater geographic distribution of locations from which postal services may be purchased.
Sincerely Yours has operated since 2002 as a private business on its own private property, with signs and other indicators in several locations throughout its facility informing patrons the store is a contract postal unit operated by a church. On the counter is a sign bearing the USPS official logo, which reads, “The United States Postal Service does not endorse the religious viewpoint expressed in the material posted at this Contract Postal Unit.”
ADF-allied attorney Joseph Secola of Brookfield, Conn., is local counsel in the lawsuit, Cooper v. United States Postal Service.
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