With the nation on the cusp of the 2000 election campaigns, a federal judge this week upheld the right of free political expression for advocacy groups. The decision will likely have long-range effects on the nation's political process.
Freedom of expression, which has been fundamental in American politics since the beginning of the republic, was challenged by the Federal Election Commission in a long-running case in which the commission argued the Christian Coalition's contact with campaign workers and its distribution of voters guides to churches on the Sunday before election days should be counted as excessive campaign contributions.
U.S. District Judge Joyce Green, however, dismissed the bulk of the case. He ruled the group's activities were within the law and that it would be an infringement on political freedom to say members of the group could not talk to campaign workers.
However, the judge properly ruled the conservative religious group overstepped election law bounds in two instances: when it advocated the re-election of Rep. Newt Gingrich during the Georgia Republican's successful 1994 bid to gain GOP control of the House, and when the group improperly shared its mailing list with the 1994 Senate campaign of former Iran-Contra figure Oliver North.
The judge's finding is a momentous decision for the preservation of freedom of speech in this country with far-reaching implications. The fact that diverse groups such as the AFL-CIO and the American Civil Liberties Union joined in the case to support the Christian Coalition attests to its import.
"This is an important victory for all citizen groups." Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson noted. "It wasn't just for conservative Christians. This was for citizen participation."