June 15, 1987. I was in Chicago conducting a training program – examining the legal issues – on literature distribution for Jews for Jesus.
Just months earlier, I had delivered oral arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of Jews for Jesus – arguing that literature distribution at airports was a constitutionally-protected activity. It was my first time before the high court, a young and nervous attorney, who presented what was then a unique argument.
Instead of relying solely on the premise that such literature distribution was protected by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, which had met with limited legal success, I argued that officials at the Los Angeles International Airport actually created a policy forbidding all “First Amendment activities.” My argument was very direct and focused: the policy prohibiting literature distribution violated the free speech rights of my client. My entire argument was aimed at protecting free speech.
You can listen to the oral arguments here.
On that day, June 15, 1987, I knew the Supreme Court would be issuing opinions. There was no internet, no instant communications to find out what the Supreme Court had decided. I placed a call from a pay phone to the Court from Chicago and asked about the status of the case. “A decision has been issued,” the clerk responded. I waited. And then I heard the news. “Nine-zero, unanimous.” I couldn’t believe it. Stunned. That was a very emotional moment.
Each and every Justice agreed that religious speech must be given the same protection as all other protected speech.
The unanimous Court held that the regulation at issue was overbroad on its face; in other words, it was so overreaching and violative of the First Amendment that “no conceivable governmental interest would justify such an absolute prohibition of speech.” It was a resounding win for free speech and religious liberty.
Now, 25 years later to the day, I look back at that first Supreme Court win with fondness and deep gratitude. At the time, I never imagined what would unfold in the following years. I’ve been privileged to return numerous times to the Supreme Court to take part in oral arguments, and very fortunate to have secured additional victories protecting the constitutional rights of Americans.
The Lord has blessed the ACLJ with tremendous success. No question about that.
What is also true is that none of it – not the first Supreme Court win a quarter century ago or any of our other victories – would have been possible without the support of you – our members. There are some who have been with us from the very start. And many others who have joined with us over the years.
I want to thank you for your continued prayers and support. There will always be new threats – new challenges – to our families and to our freedom. And I want you to know that as we celebrate this special anniversary marking our first Supreme Court victory, we remain dedicated to protecting your religious and constitutional freedoms.