In Historic Court Victory for ACLU, Honolulu Agrees to Create New Rules
Affirming Free Speech and Religious Neutrality
June 23, 2004
Honolulu - The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai'i claimed victory today in three First Amendment cases resulting in a historic settlement agreement with the city and county of Honolulu, which ensured that gay rights organizations and other political groups cannot be blocked from participating in city-sponsored events and that taxpayer funds will no longer be used to promote one religion over others.
"This global settlement reaffirms basic constitutional principles," said ACLU of Hawai'i Legal Director Lois K. Perrin. "The government cannot censor speech or exclude people from public events simply because officials do not agree with the participants' sexual orientation, gender identity or their message."
Today's global settlement came in response to three ACLU lawsuits, two of which charged the city and county of Honolulu with using public funds and resources to promote the evangelical beliefs of the Hawai'i Christian Coalition during the 2003 Family Day Parade and barring several gay and lesbian groups from participating in the event. The suits were filed on behalf of six Honolulu residents, including Reverend Vaughn Beckman of the First Christian Church, and three gay rights organizations: Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) of O'ahu, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Family Network and The Center.
Under the settlement, the city of Honolulu agreed to establish and adopt rules that clearly reaffirm existing law with respect to nondiscrimination and separation of church and state, including opening any city co-sponsored or joint venture event to all individuals and groups, regardless of the content of their message or sexual orientation. The rules also prohibit the city from misusing public funds to promote religion in the future.
The City will also post a statement of diversity on its website and will, in addition to waiving police costs, also waive costs for coning and signage for all future First Amendment activities.
"These guidelines are needed to ensure a proper fairness for all First Amendment activities," Rev. Beckman said. "It is through these rules that we can help guarantee that all people are treated with dignity and with respect."
Michael Golojuch, Jr., a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits, welcomed today's settlement.
"The outcome from this lawsuit will not only benefit the groups that brought the suit but it is a victory for equal rights and free speech supporters everywhere," said Golojuch.
Bill Woods, also a plaintiff, said in a statement, "we do feel the establishment of formal City rules and regulations will go a long way to prevent such abominable actions by the next administration."
The settlement was put on the record today in U.S. District Court at a hearing before Magistrate Judge Kevin S.C. Chang. It will next go to the City Council for an approval process that is expected to take at least 45 days.
"It is not the role of the government to advance Christianity or any other religious belief," the ACLU's Perrin said. "The proposed rules clarify that individuals are perfectly competent to make such decisions for themselves without government interference."
Perrin was joined by attorney Earle Partington as co-counsel in the lawsuits.