Asks for Punitive Damages
The national Freedom From Religion Foundation is filing a lawsuit today in federal court against the City of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., for taking actions which led to the censorship of its "Imagine No Religion" billboard on Archibald and Foothill Blvd, Route 66.
The Madison, Wis.-based Foundation, the nation's largest national association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) and a state/church watchdog, said City violated the Foundation's rights under the Establishment Clause and Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The Foundation's pretty sign, which was evidently destroyed by General Outdoor Co. after its removal on Nov. 21, had a stained-glass window motif asking viewers to "Imagine No Religion" and advertising the Foundation's name and website, ffrf.org.
The Foundation had prepaid for the board and contracted for a two-month run beginning in mid-November. The Board had been up for less than a week when it was removed at the apparent instigation of Linda Daniels, Rancho Cucamonga Development Director.
"The Defendants' actions conveyed a message that religion is favored, preferred, and promoted by the City of Rancho Cucamonga and its officials, despite subsequent attempts to cover up the Defendants' involvement in sending an objectively understood message disapproving FFRF's billboard," said the Foundation.
The Foundation Complaint noted:
"The Defendants' actions, including by interfering with and contributing to cause FFRF's message to be removed from the public realm, were undertaken precisely because of the content of FFRF's message, including the Defendants' perception that FFRF was expressing an idea that some members of society found offensive or disagreeable.
"The Defendants' actions, including by interfering with and contributing to cause FFRF's message to be silenced, were taken under color of law, and in violation of FFRF's Free Speech rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."
The Foundation charged that the city's actions were "undertaken in willful, wanton and intentional disregard of FFRF's rights."
"The principal function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute, and such speech may best serve its purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions are they are, or even stirs people to anger.
"The bedrock principle underlying the scope of the free speech protection of the First Amendment is that government officials may not interfere with the expression of an idea simply because some persons allegedly consider the idea offensive or disagreeable to their views."
The Foundation is seeking reasonable compensatory and punitive damages and attorney's fees.
The lawsuit is being filed in U.S. District Court, Central District of California. Local counsel is Robert Seeman, 818-241-6907 and Foundation counsel is Richard Bolton of Madison, Wis.
Read Legal Complaint Case No. 2:08-cv-7833 (pdf)