FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 27, 2014
CONTACT: Brooke Anderson, 334-420-1750, firstname.lastname@example.org
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The ACLU of Alabama, together with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit today in federal court on behalf of a Chilton County pastor whose right to freely practice his faith was violated by a new Alabama law that prevents him from pursuing his ministry and exercising his deeply-held religious beliefs.
For over three years, Pastor Ricky Martin, leader of the Triumph Church in Clanton, Ala., and a volunteer prison chaplain, allowed registered sex offenders recently released from prison to live in trailers behind his church. “Pastor Martin believes it is his Christian duty and his calling to help those in need—especially those in dire need and cast out from society,” said Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama.
Residents were barred from alcohol, drugs, tobacco, cursing, fighting, weapons, and X-rated movies or magazines. Residents were also required to be dressed properly when outdoors, refrain from trespassing on neighboring property, and attend church services. Martin was forced to discontinue his charity, however, after the state legislature enacted a law forbidding Chilton County property owners from housing more than one registered offender on a single piece of land. Violators of the provision are subject to a fine of not less than $500 and not more than $5,000.
“All I am trying to do is follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and care for those who are in need of assistance,” said Pastor Martin. “But now the government is prohibiting me from doing what the Lord is asking of me.”
In approving the statute, lawmakers specifically intended to shut down Pastor Martin’s provision of housing, even though there is no scientific evidence that multiple offenders living on the same property poses any danger to the public. And, during an Alabama House Judiciary Committee hearing in February 2013, Chilton County Assistant District Attorney C.J. Robinson admitted that, between August 2010 and January 2013, there had not been a single sexually-related crime committed by any resident living on Pastor Martin’s property.
“This law directly targets our client—a minister—because of his deeply held Christian beliefs. The government cannot single out and strong-arm people of faith in this way,” said Heather Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, alleges that Alabama and Chilton County officials have violated Pastor Martin’s religious-exercise rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the Alabama Constitution’s Religious Freedom Amendment, as well as other constitutional claims. Pastor Martin asks the court to enjoin enforcement of the law against him and his provision of housing.
Read the full complaint here.