Dispatches from the Creation Wars

New Free Exercise Case

Here’s a new church/state lawsuit (see actual complaint here), and one in which the Alliance Defense Fund is on the right side for a change. The city of Idaho Springs, Colorado refused to allow a religious group to use the city council chambers for a National Day of Prayer meeting that was planned for the city grounds outside the building (they wanted to use the chambers in case of inclement weather). They had the permit to hold the meeting outside, but a city administrator said they could not use the inside facilities because the meeting was of a religious nature, citing city policy which said:

The following rules and regulations concerning the use of Council Chambers at Idaho Springs City Hall have been established by the City Council and will apply to anyone requesting to use chambers for meetings. The City Clerk, or her designee, will be in charge of administering and implementing this policy. City Council shall have sole discretion to determine whether an event will be permitted.

- City Council, departments, commissions, boards, and agencies of the City will have priority for scheduled use of facility.

- Outside groups wishing to reserve meeting rooms must be non-profit, community service oriented, or other government entities.

- Private social events, meetings of private businesses, meetings with religious content and religious ceremonies are not permitted.


The ADF correctly says that this amounts to viewpoint discrimination and violates the right to equal access to public property for religious groups on par with non-religious groups. I don’t know why so many schools and cities, in particular, have such a difficult time with access issues. They’re pretty much settled law, reiterated in both Lamb’s Chapel and Good News Club as well as other cases. If you’re going to allow use of public facilities to community groups, you cannot deny that access to religious groups. The access must be equal for all groups regardless of the viewpoint expressed at the meetings.

Comments

  1. #1 tacitus
    June 28, 2006

    First, I agree with Ed that the plaintiffs have a good case, but I doubt that they are too unhappy that this law suit is necessary. It’s all good publicity, and here’s why:

    The meeting was most probably arranged in collaboration with the “National Day of Prayer Task Force” a private organization, run by James Dobson’s wife Shirley, and which is basically hijacking the NDP and turning it into a sectarian, fundamentalist event.

    Their web site claims to be the “Official Website of the NDP” (there is no such thing) and attempts to hold their meetings in government buildings where possible is all part of the ruse to make their organization appear to be the official, government sponsored, organizers.

    If you check the Presidential proclamation for the NDP, you will find no motto, no theme assigned to the 2006 celebration. Any religious person would find it hard to object. Yet if you check the 2006 state NDP decrees (available at the NDPTF web site: http://www.ndptf.org/press_room/index.cfm) you will find that at least half of them do contain a specific theme–”America, honor God”–which comes directly from the private NDPTF. (The motto is based on I Samuel 2:30 “Those who honor me, I will honor”).

    The problem is that the NDPTF expressly tells non-evangelical, non-fundamentalist Christians that they are not welcome:

    However, our expression of that involvement is specifically limited to the Judeo-Christian heritage and those who share that conviction as expressed in the Lausanne Covenant. If peoples of other faiths wish to celebrate in their own tradition, they are welcome to do so, but we must be true to those who have supported this effort and volunteered their time to promote it. National Day of Prayer is not a function of the government and, therefore, a particular expression of it can be defined by those who choose to organize it. This is not a church/state issue

    Those are weasel words considering their obvious intent to portray themselves as the be all and end all of NDP commemerations.

    I do have a question. Considering the source (the sectarian NDPTF) was it constitutional for states to include the 2006 motto in their proclamations?

  2. #2 kehrsam
    June 28, 2006

    In general, legislatures are free to say just about anything they want, particularly in something that is a more-or-less meaningless proclamation. The cases involving legislative chaplains seem pretty clear on the subject.

    In addition, there is a separation of powers issue. It would be as if Congress told the Supremes that none of John Marshall’s opinions were valid anymore because of all the references to the divine and providence. Ain’t gonna happen.

  3. #3 kehrsam
    June 28, 2006

    As to the merits of the case, it appears the KKK could hold a meeting in the chambers, but a girl scout troop affiliated with a church could not. Great policy.

    Lambs Chapel seems directly on point, so I don’t know what the city attorney was thinking when they drafted the reg. Maybe they don’t have one.

    I know this is a hobby horse of mine, but we really should replace Lemon with a bright line rule: No public funds to religious causes or organizations, otherwise let freedom reign.

    Focus on the Family has been the main organizer of NDOP since at least the late 1980s. Having their pet language in the Proclaimations is new to me, though.

  4. #4 Mattt
    June 29, 2006

    A question for Ed, or anyone else who knows: Does Lamb’s Chapel or Good News Club require that if a public buliding is made available to community groups, it must be available to groups such as the KKK? What limits are municipal governments allowed to place on the use of public buildings if they let community groups use them?