A federal judge has ruled that Secret Service agents violated the constitutional rights of a Texas-based evangelical ministry when they seized thousands of “Million Dollar Bill” gospel tracts without a warrant.
Judge Jorge Solis also ruled that the ministry, the Great News Network, did not violate federal law by distributing the dollar-sized tracts that the U.S. Treasury Department viewed as counterfeit currency.
“The Million Dollar Bill, taken as a whole, poses no reasonable risk of deceiving an honest, sensible and unsuspecting person,” Solis wrote in his decision March 30.
Secret Service agents arrived unannounced at the ministry’s headquarters in Denton, Texas, on June 1, 2006, and demanded that officials hand over the tracts, which are printed to look like a $1 million dollar bill, with an image of President Grover Cleveland on the front.
The U.S. government does not print a million-dollar bill; notes are no longer printed in any amount larger than $1,000. The reverse side of the tract features “The million-dollar question: Will you go to heaven?”
Despite protests from ministry officials, the agents seized 8,300 copies of the tract with no warrant. The ministry later filed suit, alleging violations of the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Solis said the “coercive tactics” of one agent, Mickey Kennedy, “not only resulted in an unconstitutional search and seizure, it also resulted in bringing disrepute to the noble profession of law enforcement.”
The judge ruled that the tract “is designed to look like U.S. currency at first glance, but not designed to fool anyone into believing that it is real U.S. currency,” and was never used by “an individual trying to pass it as legal tender.”
Steve Crampton, general counsel of the Christian law firm Liberty Counsel, hailed the decision for his clients. Federal officials, he said, “should be tracking dangerous criminals instead of harassing innocent people of faith for handing out religious tracts.”