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Apr 20 2014

Another Fight With Warren City Hall

A couple years ago the Freedom From Religion Foundation lost a lawsuit against the city of Warren, Michigan after being denied the right to put up an anti-religious display next to a nativity scene. Now the city is doing it again, allowing a prayer booth at city hall but refusing a local resident the right to have a booth.

A resident’s request to put up a display table touting reason over religion in the atrium of city hall has been denied.

Douglass Marshall said he made the request as a resident of the city, but Mayor James Fouts rejected it, saying Marshall is a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has objected to a nativity scene, the city’s annual Day of Prayer and the prayer station at city hall.

“We can’t put up every display that everybody wants because the atrium would be filled with displays,” Fouts said Wednesday. “I have certain discretionary rights about what I will and will not put up. And I determined that putting up an anti-religious display would serve no useful purpose. It would cause a lot of conflict and consternation.”…

Fouts said the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in his favor in denying permission for the display.

“He can say he’s independent of the foundation but he is a front for the foundation, he is a spokesperson for the foundation, a symbol of the foundation and at the minimum he is a shill for the foundation,” Fouts said.

Fouts couldn’t reason his way out of a wet paper bag. No, the court of appeals did not give him that authority, their ruling applied only to the nativity scene. And frankly, that was the FFRF’s fault. They wanted to put up that sign I hate that says “religion is but superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” If they had put up a positive message like Margaret Downey’s tree of knowledge display or the sign the Springfield Freethinkers put up last year, they would likely have won the case.

The other Detroit paper, the Detroit Free Press, has a lot more detail and it actually reveals what Marshall was proposing rather than just calling it an “anti-religious display.” What he wanted to do was set up a reason station near the prayer station, which is entirely legitimate. There’s also more detail on the mayor’s inane letter:

But Fouts in his denial letter, which Marshall had not yet received from the city, indicated that it was his understanding that Marshall was affiliated with Freedom From Religion, which has unsuccessfully contested a nativity scene on city property, the prayer station and annual day of prayer at city hall.

Fouts said these events are allowed because of the right to freedom of religion and that “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.”

“It seems to me that the mayor allows free speech in the atrium as long as he agrees with the speech,” Marshall said. “If he doesn’t, he denies speech he doesn’t agree with in the atrium.”

In his letter, Fouts said Freedom From Religion is not a religion, has no tenets 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,” he wrote, underlining the last sentence.

“Also, I believe it is group’s intention to disrupt those who participate in the Prayer Station which would also be a violation of the freedom of religion amendment. For these reasons, I cannot approve of your request,” he wrote.

All bullshit, of course, and completely irrelevant as well. It is entirely appropriate, if you are going to allow a “prayer station” that you also allow a station where people will actually help you talk through your problems, reach a decision and make a plan of action to solve them. That’s actually doing something that might have a positive effect, as opposed to pointless prayers. Having that station does not deprive anyone else of their own. They didn’t demand that the prayer station be removed.

I see another lawsuit coming.

18 comments

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  1. 1
    Marcus Ranum

    “We can’t put up every display that everybody wants because the atrium would be filled with displays,” Fouts said Wednesday. “I have certain discretionary rights about what I will and will not put up. And I determined that putting up an anti-religious display would serve no useful purpose. It would cause a lot of conflict and consternation.”…

    Satanic displays aren’t anti-religious. But I bet he’d have a problem with one of those…

  2. 2
    Marcus Ranum

    He really has completely set himself up to be sucker-punched by pastafarians or satanists.

  3. 3
    Modusoperandi

    I tried the prayer station. And it worked! I did Voltaire’s prayer and my enemies were ridiculous!

  4. 4
    raven

    And frankly, that was the FFRF’s fault. They wanted to put up that sign I hate that says “religion is but superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” If they had put up a positive message like Margaret Downey’s tree of knowledge display or the sign the Springfield Freethinkers put up last year, they would likely have won the case.

    True.

    One of my continual complaints is how atheists don’t have much artistic sense or imagination.

    It’s OK to put up an atheist Xmas display. Or a Pagan one inasmuch as the xians stole their holiday from the Pagans.

    But the message would get through better if they actually put up a Holiday type display. The Tree of Knowledge is a good one.

    That being said, I haven’t had too much success in coming up with one either. Maybe celebrating Isaac Newton.s birthday, December 25. They make all Zombie nativity displays but that doesn’t seem too seasonal.

    An all dinosaur nativity scene would work. Everyone likes dinosaurs. They make all cat ones as well.

    PS Not that the xians do much better. Nativity displays are trite and clichey. Seen one plastic sheep, seen them all.

  5. 5
    Marcus Ranum

    The pasta nativity is pretty amazing! First you boil the water!

  6. 6
    raven

    Sort of on topic.

    The War on Easter and the War on the War on Easter was a dismal failure this year. Or I didn’t see anything, anyway.

    Oddly enough, it is usually xians attacking Easter. This is another Pagan holiday they stole, named after the Germanic goddess of spring and fertility, Estre. Same with the symbols, colored eggs and bunnies.

    The fundies who know that get real upset. There is a movement to drop the term Easter. Now they call it Resurrection Sunday.

  7. 7
    democommie

    @5:

    Were allathem sitcoms back in the 50′s being subversive when they were snowbound and one of the ladies was preggers and starting to have labor pains?

  8. 8
    John Pieret

    frankly, that was the FFRF’s fault. They wanted to put up that sign I hate that says “religion is but superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” If they had put up a positive message like Margaret Downey’s tree of knowledge display or the sign the Springfield Freethinkers put up last year, they would likely have won the case.

    No, that wasn’t what drove the Sixth Circuit’s previous decision.

    There are two types of situations where these cases arise: 1) where the government itself puts up some sort of holiday display and 2) where the government allows individuals or non-government entities to put up displays on government property. Somewhat different rules apply to each situation.

    When the government puts up a holiday display any endorsement of a particular religion or religion in general must be “indirect, remote, and incidental.” Essentially, what this means is that the government has to make it clear that, overall, it is not endorsing a particular religion (that’s why menorahs are popular in government displays) and/or religion in general (by including “secular” holiday elements). In the prior case, the Warren erected a display that included a lighted tree, ribbons, ornaments, reindeer, wreaths, snowmen, a mailbox for Santa, elves, wrapped gift boxes, nutcrackers, poinsettias, candy canes, and a “Winter Welcome” sign in addition to the nativity scene. The court held, based on precedent, that governments can acknowledge religious holidays and that, given all the secular holiday symbols, including a creche simply “depicts the historical origins of this traditional event long recognized as a National Holiday.” I don’t agree with this interpretation of the Establishment Clause but a robust line of Supreme Court decisions means we’re stuck with it.

    Since the display was put up solely by the government and was found to be permissible government speech, it did not create a “public forum” and, therefore the government didn’t have to let FFRF put up its sign and didn’t have to give any reason at all, much less a valid one, for not doing so … anymore than you need a reason to ban anyone from this blog.

    Putting up a “prayer station” by the government is a different matter and if it was done by a non-governmental group, Fouts has created a limited public forum and has to allow others to use it without content discrimination.

    BTW, Fouts’ claim that atheism isn’t protected under the 1st Amendment? Here’s what the Sixth Circuit said in its earlier decision:

    It may be true that the Mayor misapprehended the Religion Clauses when he implied that atheists receive no protection from them by saying that the Foundation’s “non-religion” was “not a recognized religion.” In this respect, the Mayor, apparently untrained as a lawyer, may not have missed his calling The Religion Clauses, it turns out, do protect the religious and nonreligious.

  9. 9
    John Pieret

    P.S. You can find the Sixth Circuit opinion here:

    http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/13a0049p-06.pdf

  10. 10
    Marcus Ranum

    Now they call it Resurrection Sunday.

    A gamer kid I know referred to it as “laggy respawn LOL”

  11. 11
    Sastra

    The positive humanism messages and the negative FFRF messages have different goals. The first one is trying to get atheism accepted by the community as part of the cultural mix. The second one is trying to end religious displays on government property.

    “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.

    This is what happens when religion is considered to be a matter of identity, like race or the peaceful pursuit of a chosen pleasure — instead of a matter of reason, like politics or science. Telling someone “you shouldn’t believe that” is automatically framed as bullying instead of debate.

  12. 12
    raven

    Fox News Kicks Off 2014 Coverage Of The “Unholy War On …
    mediamatters.org/video/2014/04/…2014…/198938

    Fox News Kicks Off 2014 Coverage Of The “Unholy War On Easter”. Video ››› April 18, 2014 10:41 AM EDT ››› MEDIA …

    Oh Cthulhu!!!

    I just put War on Easter 2014 in Google.

    There weren’t many hits on the first page. About the only one was…Fox News.

    I take it to mean their War on Easter is imaginary like almost everything they broadcast. But I’m not going to waste the time to actually see what Fox News has to say made up this time.

  13. 13
    raven

    Dailykos:

    The new unholy war on Easter finding a new battleground in the Windy City.
    Well that’s quite the intro. Do go on.

    The Freedom from Religion Foundation, an atheist group that already posted an anti-Easter sign in the Wisconsin state capital, is now erecting a massive display in Chicago’s Daley Plaza. Two eight-foot banners featuring Thomas Jefferson and President John Adams promoting the secular views of our founding fathers.
    THOSE BASTARDS.

    One banner reads “In reason we trust”, the other will say “Keep state and religion separate.” The exhibit, aimed at countering the Jesus in Daley Plaza displaying a display that is going on today or going up today, it’s been going on for eight years there in Chicago, it’ll feature a nineteen foot tall cross and a 10-foot tall image of the resurrected Jesus. Has Easter evolved into an occasion to demean religious beliefs and Christianity?

    1. Got that right. It’s nothing. Much less a full fledged battle with tanks and fighter planes. FFRF put up two banners in Chicago. Big deal.

    2. It shows the usual complete lack of artistic or seasonal merit.

    3. The Pagans didn’t do anything that I’m aware of. It’s a spring and fertility holiday involving a goddess so this should be easy. Everyone likes spring, especially after the severe winter in much of the USA.

  14. 14
    D. C. Sessions

    Everyone likes spring

    Bzzzzzzzzt. Spring means having to hide inside from the heat for the next eight months until autumn and winter come around again and it gets decent outside.

  15. 15
    Modusoperandi

    D. C. Sessions, move. Surely there must be places where you like more than half of the seasons.

  16. 16
    Synfandel

    D. C. Sessions, get out of the tropics. We’re a full month into spring and the last snow melted away in my yard last week. We still go below freezing each night. I hope to see buds on the trees sometime in the next couple of weeks. If you don’t like the heat and you can tolerate public health insurance, same-sex marriage, gun control, and hockey obsession, you know what to do.

  17. 17
    abb3w

    …”may not have missed his calling”? Ouch. That’s about as sharp a rebuke of a defendant in a ruling favoring same as I’ve spotted outside the legendary Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corp.

  18. 18
    John Pieret

    abb3w:

    …”may not have missed his calling”? Ouch. That’s about as sharp a rebuke of a defendant in a ruling favoring same as I’ve spotted outside the legendary Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corp.

    Yeah, I almost snorted my drink through my nose when I saw that.

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