c. 2006 Religion News Service
(UNDATED) When does an evangelistic tract become contraband?
A Denton, Texas-based evangelistic ministry and the U.S. Secret Service are locked in a legal dispute over that question after agents seized dozens of packs of tracts resembling $1 million bills.
In the past three years, the Great News Network has distributed tens of thousands of the tracts, which feature “1,000,000,” a picture of President Grover Cleveland and, in small type, the words “This is Not Legal Tender” and “Department of Eternal Affairs.”
On the back, wording around the edge of the tract begins: “The million-dollar question: Will you go to heaven?” The tracts are the same size as a standard dollar bill.
On Tuesday (June 20), U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis of Dallas denied the network’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have said the “Million Dollar” tracts do not violate U.S. counterfeiting laws.
The tracts came to the Secret Service’s attention after a North Carolina resident tried to deposit one in a personal bank account. Agents confiscated the tracts from the ministry on June 2.
“Overall, the bill appears very similar to actual currency,” Solis concluded. “In essence, the bill could be characterized as a modified reproduction of actual currency.”
The lawyer representing the ministry said he was “very disappointed” with the judge’s ruling.
“I guess I couldn’t disagree more,” said Brian Fahling, the senior trial attorney with the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy. “It’s like the reasonable American is an idiot. What about the 5 (million) or 6 million who haven’t gone running to their banks ….?”
Fahling, who plans to appeal the judge’s decision, estimated that millions of the tracts have been distributed by Great News Network and others who have ordered them from Living Waters Publications, based in Bellflower, Calif.
The network argued in court documents that its freedoms of speech, press and religious exercise were violated by the Secret Service agents. In an interview, Fahling said the tracts have a number of “disqualifying marks” and Cleveland does not appear on U.S. bills that are currently in use.
“There’s never been a $1 million bill and I trust there never will be,” he added.
A representative of the Secret Service could not be reached immediately for comment. The agency, which oversees anti-counterfeiting operations, explained its stance in a legal brief responding to the suit from Great News Network.
“The First Amendment values must be balanced against societal interests,” reads the response from U.S. attorneys representing Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Secret Service agents who were named in the complaint.
They suggested that the ministry could have altered the bills to reduce the chance of confusion.
“Plaintiffs cannot avoid the issue of similitude between the appearance of their $1,000,000 bill and that of United States currency by merely calling the bills by another name, i.e. a religious tract,” their response concluded. “The $1,000,000 bills are what they appear to be _ money.”
KRE/JL END BANKS
Editors: To obtain photos of the dollar-bill tracts, go to the RNS Web site at https://religionnews.com. On the lower right, click on “photos,” then search by subject or slug.