Christian Action Network sues state over solicitation letter

Posted Oct. 05, 2009, at 9:32 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Christian Action Network, a grass-roots political organization, has sued Gov. John Baldacci and the state of Maine over a fundraising letter the Forest, Va.-based group sent out earlier this year about privileges the group claimed were given Muslims in American public schools and universities.

The organization claims the state violated its right to free speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendments when it denied the Christian Action Network a charitable license to solicit funds in Maine and proposed the group pay $4,000 in sanctions.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Knowlton said he was aware the lawsuit had been filed, but his office had not been served with the complaint as of 4 p.m. Monday. The AG’s office has 20 days to reply to the lawsuit after it receives it.

“We believe the state did not violate the group’s constitutional rights when it denied the Christian Action Network a license to solicit as a charitable organization in Maine,” Knowlton said.

The Christian Action Network is asking the court to find the Maine Charitable Solicitation Act, which regulates how charities may ask for contributions and sets out reporting requirements, unconstitutional. It also is seeking an injunction to keep the state from enforcing the law and is asking for legal fees.

The letter, according to the complaint filed last week in U.S. District Court in Bangor, was “an informational and educational packet … alerting citizens to the remarkable privileges afforded the religion of Islam in American public schools and universities, including the provision of a ‘prayer room,’ foot baths, instruction in the Five Pillars of Islam, discussion of key passages of the Koran, and even an exercise in which seventh grade students were told that they ‘will become Muslim.’”

A copy of the letter was filed with the complaint. It does not cite any schools or universities in Maine where the tenets of Islam are being taught or where accommodations for Muslim students have been made. The letter states that public schools in California, Texas, Minnesota, Michigan and South Carolina either teach or offer information about Islam and-or have made accommodations for prayer for Muslim students.

The letter also says that “at least 17 universities have foot baths built or under construction, including Boston University, George Washington University and Temple University. At least nine universities have prayer rooms for ‘Muslim students only,’ including Stanford, Emory and the University of Virginia.”

The envelope in which the letter was mailed in April contained the governor’s name to identify him as the public official ultimately responsible for public education in the state. According to the complaint, the letter urged recipients “to petition” the governor about the issue and solicited a charitable contribution for the organization.

The law forbids any person’s name from being used in a charitable solicitation without that person’s permission. The Christian Action Network said in the complaint that it did not have permission from Baldacci to use his name.

The group claims that it properly filed its application and sent in the required fee to obtain the necessary license to solicit funds in Maine. In May, according to the complaint, the Christian Action Network was informed its application for a license as a charitable organization had been preliminarily denied because:

— Its letter contained “an inflammatory anti-Muslim message.”

— The governor had not given permission for his name to be used.

— The group had solicited funds when the state considered its license application to be incomplete.

According to court documents, the organization did not have a license to solicit funds because its application was pending since some of the pages in the required financial statement were blank. The state proposed the Christian Action Network pay sanctions of $3,000 for improperly using the governor’s name and $1,000 for allegedly soliciting the funds without a license. The group declined to sign a consent agreement agreeing to the sanctions and filed an appeal, which is pending.

By denying the organization its “license to speak,” according to the complaint, Maine has barred the Christian Action Network from “speaking in the state of Maine to solicit charitable contributions or be subject to criminal penalties.”

Christian Action Network was founded in 1990 by Martin Mawyer, according to information on the organization’s Web site, www.christianaction.org.

Under his leadership, it “has become one of the nation’s leading grassroots Christian political organizations with more than 250,000 active members,” the Web site states.

“Since its inception in 1989,” the Web site says, “the Christian Action Network has strongly supported the right to life for the unborn; voluntary prayer in public schools and restoring religious liberties; has lobbied in favor of legislation that would defend traditional marriage; has worked to expose ‘Gay Days at Walt Disney World’ to protect children and families; and has advocated an end to taxpayer-funded ‘hate art’ through the National Endowment for the Arts.”

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