North Carolina Family Policy Council
On November 10, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina heard arguments in an important religious freedom case involving a pastor who was denied a permit by the city of Charlotte to hold a pro-life event. Frederick Nelson, an allied attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), who is representing the plaintiff in Benham v. City of Charlotte, presented oral arguments before the federal court.
The case began when Reverend Phillip Benham submitted an application to the city of Charlotte for a “festival permit” for a Roe v. Wade anniversary event scheduled for January 22, 2007. The city denied his application on the grounds that his event was a “demonstration” and not a “festival.” Under a city ordinance, demonstrations are not permitted. In September 2007, Mr. Nelson filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of Rev. Benham, arguing that the city had violated his client’s First Amendment rights. According to ADF, Rev. Benham’s permit application included the following description of his proposed event: “Evangelical, Gospel proclamation, praise and worship band, local Christian pastors speaking, post-abortive mothers give testimony, call to repentance.” The lawsuit argues that the city’s designation of the event as a demonstration was “purely subjective” and based solely on the religious nature of the event.
In July 2008, the city of Charlotte responded to the lawsuit by filing a motion for the court to issue summary judgment in the case, which means the case would be decided on the legal merits of the arguments without a trial, because there is no material issue of fact. In August, Mr. Nelson filed a memorandum against the city’s motion. He presented his oral arguments to the court earlier this week, in which he asked the court to dismiss the city’s motion for a summary judgment. An ADF fact sheet describes the significance of the case in the following manner: “A ruling against Benham would hand government officials the authority to unconstitutionally squelch Christian free speech using arbitrary standards. This would give the city the unbridled power to prohibit public celebrations based on their religious content.”
“Christian groups shouldn’t be prohibited from publicly celebrating their beliefs,” said Nelson in a press release. “The government has no right to increase bureaucracy and discriminate against Christian groups simply because they are religious.”