The University of New Orleans has settled a yearlong First Amendment lawsuit by allowing a Messianic Jew to distribute pamphlets on campus that contain the words: “Jews should believe in Jesus.”
The lawsuit was filed last summer on behalf of Michelle Beadle, a missionary with a group that seeks Jewish converts to Christianity, after she was told by a university official that she could not hand out the pamphlets because of their “offensive” language.
“This is an important resolution that protects the First Amendment (free speech) rights of our client,” said Stuart J. Roth, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a nonprofit legal group that specializes in constitutional law.
ACLJ represented Miss Beadle in the suit filed in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans.
“The university setting is designed to accommodate a wide variety of political and religious views. Our client was prohibited from exercising her constitutional rights, and that is why we went to federal court on her behalf,” Mr. Roth said.
Miss Beadle works as a missionary for CJF (formerly Christian Jew Foundation) Ministries, a nonprofit group that tries to convince Jews that Jesus is the Messiah.
In October 2002, she contacted the University of New Orleans, which is part of the Louisiana State University system, seeking permission to distribute a religious tract titled, “You Can Say Anything … Almost.”
The pamphlet gives examples of how people can get away with saying almost anything, no matter how outrageous.
But it concludes that there is still one thing a person cannot say without triggering an angry response: “Jews should believe in Jesus.”
The lawsuit says Lucille Gallese, the university’s dean of students, rejected Miss Beadle’s request to distribute the religious tract because of that statement, which she said “could be offensive to some people.”
The university had no comment about the settlement, and attempts to get comments from the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League were unsuccessful.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Mr. Roth said the university’s decision to reject Miss Beadle’s request was “flawed.” Pointing out that the university is a public institution, he said, “It is not the government’s job to decide what is offensive … the speech in that pamphlet is protected, and its content cannot be censored by a government entity. The First Amendment protects individuals against government intrusion.”
Mr. Roth pointed out that the university is “not sponsoring the speech” in the religious tract.
“It’s just a pamphlet reflecting the beliefs of a specific organization, and the people in that group are entitled to First Amendment rights.”
Mr. Roth added that it does not matter if the speech is offensive to some, as long as it is not disruptive to the campus.
ACLJ’s suit also contended that the school’s policy curtailing religious speech was “overbroad” and “represented an unconstitutional prior restraint.”
The two sides reached an agreement at a settlement conference before a U.S. magistrate in New Orleans earlier this month. The agreement became final on Friday.