The ACLJ arose in part as a counterweight to what its founders perceived as the more left leaning American Civil Liberties Union, an organization which Robertson has characterized generally as "hostile to traditional American values." The name and acronym, ACLJ, was chosen to contrast with the ACLU. It has attracted much media attention for its lawsuits, such as its campaign to oppose changes to the constitution of Kenya that, according to the group, would permit abortion and Islamic law, and its attempts to block the construction of an Islamic cultural center near the former site of the World Trade Center.
The ACLJ supported blocking the construction of the center through New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, though the ACLJ in the past has opposed efforts (or what it perceived as efforts) to block churches in the same way. In November 2010, the ACLJ asked that the U.S. Justice Department investigate the Congressional Muslim Staffer Association's weekly prayer session on Capitol Hill and halt "what appears to be a pattern of inviting Islamic extremists with ties to terrorism to participate in these events".
Selected legal cases
The Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice is Jay Alan Sekulow, an attorney and a Christian adherent of Messianic Judaism. The following are some of the cases Sekulow and the Center have argued before the Supreme Court:
Locke v. Davey, (2003). Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments in a case involving the free exercise rights of a college student who was denied a state scholarship because he declared his major to be pastoral studies. The Court held that the U.S. Constitution did not prohibit Washington's policy of denying state scholarship funds to religious studies students. However, it based its holding largely on provisions of the Washington state constitution, and did not directly address the issue of whether the U.S. Constitution prohibited states from providing such support.
McConnell v. FEC (Campaign finance reform), (2003). Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments on behalf of a group of minors who were prohibited from contributing to political campaigns. The Court unanimously held that minors cannot be prohibited from participating in political campaigns. The Court held that "minors enjoy the protection of the First Amendment."
Operation Rescue v. National Organization for Women, 537 U.S. 808, 123 S. Ct. 58 (2002). Sekulow served as counsel of record for Operation Rescue. The Court concluded that pro-life demonstrators were not racketeers engaged in extortion and that the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)—a federal statute targeting drug dealers and organized crime—could not be used against them.
Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 120 S. Ct. 2266 (2000). Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments on behalf of student-led prayer at high school sporting events. The court ruled that such prayer was unconstitutional.
Hill v. Colorado, 530 U.S. 703, 120 S. Ct. 2480 (2000). Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments in a case that centered on a Colorado law that restricted certain speech activity outside abortion clinics. The Court held that such restrictions were constitutional.
Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York, 519 U.S. 357, 117 S. Ct. 855 (1997). Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments in a case that focused on the constitutionality of speech-free "buffer zones" around abortion clinics. The Court held that "fixed buffer zones" were constitutional, but "floating buffer zones" were not.
Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District, 508 U.S. 384, 113 S. Ct. 2141 (1993). Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments in a case involving the equal treatment of religious organizations and their use of public school facilities after-hours. The Court held unanimously to reject the school district's decision to refuse to allow school property to be used for religious activities. (In this case, both ACLJ and ACLU were on the same side of the issue.)
Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic, 506 U.S. 263, 113 S. Ct. 753 (1993). Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments in a case determining whether pro-life demonstrations could be regulated by the application of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. The Court held that in this case, the act could not be applied.
ISKCON and Brian Rumbaugh v. Walter Lee and The New York Port Authority, 505 U.S. 672, 112 S. Ct. 2711 (1992). Sekulow served as co-counsel in favor of distributing literature at airport terminals. The Court held that the airport's ban was reasonable.
United States v. Kokinda, 497 U.S. 720, 110 S. Ct. 3115 (1990). Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments against the prohibition of literature distribution and fund solicitation at post offices. The prohibition was upheld by the Court.
Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226, 110 S. Ct. 2356 (1990). Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented the oral arguments in favor of the Equal Access Act and the formation of Bible and prayer clubs on public school campuses. The act was upheld by the Court and the Bible club was formed.
Board of Airport Commissioners v. Jews for Jesus, 482 U.S. 569, 107 S. Ct. 2568 (1987). Sekulow served as lead counsel and presented oral arguments in favor of the distribution of religious literature at airport terminals. The Court agreed with Sekulow and held that the airport's prohibition violated the First Amendment.
ACLJ and ACLU jointly submitted an amicus curiae for a 2006 Texas case of Pastor Rick Barr and Philemon Homes vs. the city of Sinton.
In 1997 Jay Sekulow and Thomas Patrick Monaghan, Chief Counsel and Senior Counsel of the ACLJ, respectively, set up the European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ) in Strasbourg as part of the ACLJ's international strategy. Sekulow serves as Chief Counsel for the ECLJ. The following year the ACLJ set up the Slavic Center for Law and Justice (SCLJ) in Moscow. Both organizations on the European mainland have a full-time staff of religious rights attorneys. The ECLJ is active in the United Nations Organization and in the Council of Europe, and represents the interests of certain Christians in the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Involvement in non-First Amendment cases
When the ACLJ was granted nonprofit status by the IRS in 1994, it was restricted to taking part in cases involving the First Amendment. However, it has recently taken an active role in opposing President Obama's health-care reform, and its briefs contain no First Amendment arguments. It has also filed lawsuits against Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles, and its briefs in that case contain no First Amendment arguments. While the ACLJ's tax lawyer says that both cases involve First Amendment issues, the head of the ACLJ's office in Brentwood, Tennessee says the Planned Parenthood case is a whistleblower case and not a First Amendment one.