An interesting situation in Warren, Michigan, where a local church has been allowed to set up a “Prayer Station” inside city hall:
For those who have fallen victim to job loss, medical or financial problems and aren’t sure where to turn, a religious group behind a spiritual booth at City Hall is recommending faith as an option.
“Our goal would be that we would saturate our city and Metro Detroit with prayer in a very visible way,” said the Rev. Darius Walden, the senior pastor for The Tabernacle, a Church of God congregation. “It is a misconception that the church is a building. The church is people.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking questions:
The Freedom from Religion Foundation said resident concerns over the booth — located in the lobby of city offices and adorned with a banner that simply reads “Prayer Station” — prompted the nonprofit to file a request for copies of city policy, its rental agreement with the church and verification it is being charged to use the space. The group is also criticizing the city’s failure to disassociate itself from the religious message of the church.
“This is ridiculous. Prayer should be private,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based nonprofit. “A government is supposed to be neutral when it comes to religion.”
Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said the city rents the space to any group that complies with policies and fills out the proper paperwork. The church is leasing the space free of charge, because it’s a nonprofit.
If Mayor Fouts is correct and the city has a policy that allows any non-profit group to lease the space, it’s unlikely that the courts would view this as a constitutional violation. In fact, they might well view it as a violation of the Free Speech Clause to prevent a church from leasing the space.
In a series of cases beginning with Lamb’s Chapel v Center Moriches School District, the Supreme Court has held that when a government-owned building or property is made available for use by community groups it must be open to use by religious groups as well.
It will be interesting to see what information is turned over to the foundation.