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defending the First Amendment against the Christian right ...

Jews On First!

... because if Jews don't speak out, they'll think we don't mind

Stories of your experiences defending the First Amendment

Rulings in Paul Weinbaum's cases. Please click here.

We're anxious to tell your stories here. Please tell us about them, by emailing us at catcher@JewsOnFirst.org. Thank you!

Missouri town organizes against gay-owned business

Appalling Meanness in Missouri
Small town organizes to drive out gay-owned business

by JewsOnFirst.org, July 18, 2006

The email appeal we received this weekend from Chaz Franzke and Jim Thideman was astonishing. They were appealing for funds to hire expert witnesses for a lawsuit to stop a shameful seven-year vendetta against them organized by some of the citizens and churches of Ava, Missouri.

Neighbors of Franzke's and Thideman's Cactus Canyon campground, which caters to gay men, had put hogs on adjacent property with the intent of harming their business, their email said. And when Franzke and Thideman sued to stop the destruction, the legal arm of the American Family Association, a major religious right group, stepped in with free legal assistance for their tormentors.

We contacted Franzke and he provided us with details and documents showing their experiences to be much worse than the terse email, with which we begin their story. Our interview follows, after which are a Cactus Canyon news release, links to news reports and the lawsuit filed by Franzke and Thideman. Continue

Paul Weinbaum: lawsuits against city's and school's use of crosses

Rulings in Paul Weinbaum's cases. Please see below

Paul Weinbaum: Suing Las Cruces, New Mexico over its use of crosses

Paul Weinbaum has filed two lawsuits with two different partners over the three crosses in the Las Cruces, New Mexico city symbol. Yes, standing alone "las cruces" means ‘the crosses’ in Spanish. But Weinbaum says there is no proof for the crosses' defenders' claim that the crosses symbolize early settler deaths and are not "religious." On the other hand, he says in recent years there has been a very religiously motivated campaign to proliferate the crosses. So, summoning the courage he developed growing up Jewish in the South and from his military service experiences, he sued to defend the First Amendment. Please click here for his story.

UPDATE: JULY 2006
Federal court date set for three crosses' lawsuit

By Jose L. Medina, Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, New Mexico), July 16, 2006

The "three crosses" lawsuit against the city of Las Cruces is set for trial Nov. 27 in federal court, said Paul Weinbaum, a plaintiff in the case. Continue

A Report on the Use of Crosses in the City Symbols of Las Cruces

Prepared for Judge Robert C. Brack by Dr. Jon Hunner, January 26, 2006

This is the report referred to in Weinbaum's story and in the July 16 report in the Las Cruces Sun-News. Continue. (It is a PDF file.)

Judge Dismisses Paul Weinbaum's lawsuits

JewsOnFirst conversation with Paul Weinbaum
Retired teacher says he will appeal dismissal of cases

Audio interview by Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, November 14, 2006

In this ten-minute audio interview, Paul Weinbaum tells JewsOnFirst co-director Haim Dov Beliak about the local hostility to his lawsuits. He also says that it was difficult, at first, to serve as his own lawyer.

Contrary to the assertion by Focus on the Family (see its article, below), Weinbaum said the ACLU has had no involvement in either case. Now that the cases are at the appeals stage, however, he said he is contacting the major national Jewish organizations and asking them to write amicus curiae briefs. Please use the player to listen to the interview.

Federal judge in New Mexico dismisses actions seeking removal of crosses

By JewsOnFirst, November 14, 2006

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Brack, who presided over both cases, dismissed Weinbaum's case against the city last week and his case against the Las Cruces school district this week. After buttressing his ruling in the case against the city with a lengthy analysis of the evolution of the law regarding the "establishment" clause of the First Amendment, Brack concluded:

The issues raised by Plaintiff are some of the most divisive of this, or any, time. The Court is also mindful that a suit of this nature “puts nothing in a plaintiff’s pocket and can take a great deal out, and . . . the risk of social ostracism can be powerfully deterrent.” Van Orden, 125 S. Ct. 2897 (Souter, J., dissenting).

In the Las Cruces newspapers during the pendency of this litigation, Mr. Weinbaum has been the subject of several letters to the editor and comments in the “Sound Off” column. Many of those letters and comments have gone beyond critical to downright mean. People have suggested that if Mr. Weinbaum has these complaints about the community, he should leave. No, he should not. This is the United States of America. As a father and a citizen, Mr. Weinbaum has every right to raise his concerns in this Court.

The beauty of the system of governance passed down by the Founders is that Mr. Weinbaum does not have to leave, that the complaint of someone in the minority can and should be heard, and that we are all better for the hearing. In the hearing, we grow as a people and as a Nation. We can and should develop a deeper appreciation for our diversity. We can come to understand that one man’s symbol of hope and resurrection power may be, to another, something else entirely. We can be awakened to the notion that the respect and dignity we owe each of our neighbors should not depend on a conforming belief system.

Judge Brack repeated that conclusion in this week's dismissal of Weinbaum's action against the school district.

Weinbaum says he plans to appeal.

Rulings in Paul Weinbaum's lawsuits against the City of Las Cruces and the Las Cruces Public Schools

Please click here to read U.S. Judge Robert Brack's opinion and order in Paul Weinbaum's case against the city of Las Cruces (No. CIV 05-0996 RB/LAM, a PDF file).

Please click here to read U.S. Judge Robert Brack's opinion and order in Paul Weinbaum's case against the Las Cruces, New Mexico Public Schools (NO. CV 03-1043 RB/LAM, a PDF file).

Federal judge rejects Weinbaum suit aginst Las Cruces Public Schools

By Jose L. Medina, Sun-News reporter, Las Cruces Sun-News, December 9, 2006

LAS CRUCES — A federal judge has handed a Las Cruces man a second defeat in his fight to rid public institutions of what he argues are religious symbols.

U.S. District Judge Robert Brack ruled late Thursday that a lawsuit filed by Paul Weinbaum against the Las Cruces Public Schools is without merit.

Weinbaum had sued the school district in arguing that its use of three crosses in its logos and on school grounds violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by using public funds to promote religion. Continue.

Schools await ruling in logo lawsuit

By Jason Gibbs and Jose L. Medina, Las Cruces Sun-News, November 28, 2006

LAS CRUCES The suit over Las Cruces Public Schools' use of three crosses in logos and public displays now awaits a federal judge's decision.

U.S. District Judge Robert Brack heard a day full of testimony and closing arguments Monday in the 3-year-old suit before announcing shortly after 5 p.m. that he would render a decision "as soon as possible."

Las Crucen Paul Weinbaum, a retired teacher, brought the suit against LCPS in 2003. He argued that the district's use of Christian crosses on its maintenance vehicles violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by using public money to promote religion. Continue.

Cross lawsuit vs. city tossed

By Jose L. Medina, Sun-News (Las Cruces, New Mexico), November 10, 2006

LAS CRUCES -- The "three crosses" lawsuit against the city of Las Cruces was dismissed Thursday in federal court, but the plaintiff is vowing to appeal the decision.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Brack dismissed the case brought by Paul Weinbaum of Las Cruces, who was asking the court to prohibit the city from using Christian crosses on logos or vehicles.

Weinbaum and his co-plaintiffs, daughter Olivia Weinbaum and Martin Boyd, had argued that the city as a governmental entity violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by endorsing and advancing a religion.

Weinbaum is also suing the Las Cruces Public Schools on similar grounds. His case against the schools is set for trial on Nov. 27. Continue.

Las Cruces, N.M., Seal Will Keep Its Crosses

Focus on the Family, November 10, 2006

A federal court dismissed a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the city of Las Cruces, N.M., which sought to remove three crosses from the town's official seal, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

The ACLU argued that the First Amendment's Establishment Clause prohibits the government from using religious symbols. It said the city's adoption of the symbol -- three crosses surrounded by a sunburst -- was the equivalent to an endorsement of religion.

The court found no indication that the city acted with a religious purpose in adopting and using its seal.

"The symbol communicates the secular message that the city's name means 'The Crosses' and links the city to its historic roots," the ruling said. "A reasonable observer of the symbol would understand that the crosses represent, symbolically, this uniquely named geopolitical subdivision, rather than an endorsement of Christianity."

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