Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Suit Challenges City's Denial of Equal Public Space To Atheist

The ACLU today announced the filing of a lawsuit against the city of Warren, Michigan on behalf of an atheist who was refused space for a table in the atrium of city hall for a "reason station,"  even though the city has permitted a local pastor to operate a "prayer station" in the atrium since 2009.  The complaint (full text) in Marshall v. City of Warren, (ED MI, filed 7/23/2014), sets out free speech and establishment clause challenges based largely on the letter sent by the city's mayor denying plaintiff's request. The letter reads in part:
It is my understanding that you are affiliated with Freedom from Religion, a group that has objected to the Nativity Scene, the Prayer Station in the atrium and the Annual Day of Prayer in front of city hall.
All of these events are allowed because of the right to freedom of religion constitutional amendment. We cannot and will not restrict this right for any religion to use the atrium, as long as the activity is open to all religions. Freedom from Religion is not a religion. It has no tenets, no place of worship and no congregation. To my way of thinking, your group is strictly an anti-religion group intending to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms or at least discourage the practice of religion. The City of Warren cannot allow this. 
Also, I believe it is your group’s intention to disrupt those who participate in the Prayer Station which would also be a violation of the freedom of religion amendment.