Entries in American Civil Liberties Union (2)


Vermont Inn Sued over Refusal to Host Gay Wedding

Spike Mafford/Thinkstock(LYNDONVILLE, Vt.) -- The Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville, Vermont bills itself as a "vacation sanctuary" where the welcome mat is rolled out even for the family dog.  The inn, nestled in the mountains on 570 acres, was voted Best Family Resort by Yankee magazine in 2010 and has enjoyed positive reviews in travel publications and websites that range from National Geographic Traveler to Trip Advisor.

But according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, that warm Wildflower welcome doesn't extend to gay couples.

Court documents filed in Vermont Superior Court claim that when Katherine Baker and Ming-Lien Linsley, a lesbian couple, tried to book their wedding reception at the Wildflower, they were told via email that innkeepers Mary and Jim O'Reilly "do not host gay receptions" because of their "personal feelings."

According to Dan Barrett, an attorney with the Vermont Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, that puts the O'Reillys in violation of the law.

"We believe this is a straightforward violation.  Businesses open to the general public must serve all customers...They cannot turn people away based on sexual orientation.  That section of the law has been on the books in Vermont since 1992," Barrett says.

Linsley, 34, and Baker, 31, became engaged last October.  The two wanted to hold their wedding in Vermont because, said Linsley, "we both have come here for years, and we had a strong connection to it personally."

Mother of one of the brides, Channie Peters set about trying to find a place to hold a wedding reception.  With help from the Vermont Convention Bureau, Peters received an email from the meetings and events director of the Wildflower Inn that read, in part, "the Wildflower Inn would be the perfect location..." and continued, "You could not offer a better "destination wedding" location for your guests."

But when Peters mentioned there would be a "bride and bride" instead of a "bride and groom," she received an email with the subject line: "I have bad news," and that's when the O'Reilly's alleged policy against holding gay receptions at their inn came to light.

Calls to the O'Reilly's home in Vermont were not returned, and a woman who answered the phone at the Wildflower Inn said she could not comment on the lawsuit.  The inn updated its website on Wednesday to say it is "no longer hosting weddings or special events."

The lawsuit's allegations are particularly jarring, given that Vermont is known as one of the most liberal states in the country.  The Green Mountain State has allowed civil unions between same sex couples since 2000, and gay marriage has been legal since 2009.

The O'Reillys have 20 days to file a response to the allegations.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mount Soledad Cross Violates the Constitution, Says Federal Court

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SAN DIEGO) -- A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a 43-foot-tall cross that sits atop Mount Soledad in La Jolla, California violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
In a 50-page opinion, a unanimous three judge panel found “after examining the entirety of the Mount Soledad Memorial in context -- having considered its history, its religious and non-religious uses, its sectarian and secular features, the history of war memorials and the dominance of the Cross -- we conclude that the Memorial, presently configured and as a whole, primarily conveys a message of government endorsement of religion.”
The cross, which weighs approximately 24 tons, is visible for miles away and overlooks a popular interstate. It was built in 1913 and then blew down in 1952. The current cross was erected in 1954 and was a memorial to American service members and a tribute to God’s “promise of everlasting life.”
The case had generated controversy for over 20 years, during which time state and federal courts had considered its fate. The cross stood for many years on city property, but in 2005, it  was designated a national veteran’s memorial and was transferred to federal property. Over the years the memorial has been expanded and now also features 2,100 black stone plaques honoring fallen soldiers.
The Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, joined by several residents of San Diego and represented by the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit arguing that the cross, sitting on federal land, sent a message of government endorsement of religion.
On Tuesday the court recognized the controversy regarding the prominent public memorial and said, “We believe that no broadly applauded resolution is possible because this case represents the difficult and intractable intersection of religion, patriotism, and the Constitution.”
Judge M. Margaret McKeown, writing for the panel, sent the case back to the lower court to decide whether the memorial could be modified to pass constitutional muster. There had been a suggestion by some to transfer the cross itself to nearby private property on a church.
“This is a clear victory for the plaintiffs and for religious liberty. The court unanimously concluded that in displaying this giant sectarian symbol the government sends an unconstitutional message of religious favoritism,” said Daniel Mach the Director of the ACLU’s Freedom of Religion and Belief.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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