They say you can't fight city hall, but sometimes there's no other choice.
The residents of Warren, Michigan, visit their city hall on a regular basis to pay taxes, to vote, and to visit the library branch and the farmers market that are located there. Since 2009, they have also been able to visit a "Prayer Station" in the building's large atrium.
Set up by a local church under a city policy that lets civic organizations and residents reserve space, the table is staffed by volunteers, who pass out religious literature and invite passersby to pray with them or come to their church.
Douglas Marshall, an atheist, often passed the Prayer Station and decided to set up a similar "Reason Station" to offer information on atheism and free thought. But when he submitted an application, the mayor refused to accept it. He told Marshall that he would allow any religious group to use the atrium, but not Marshall, who he claimed was "anti-religion" and trying "to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms."
In an interview with the AP, Fouts defended his decision to refuse the "Reason Station," saying:
The city has certain values that I don’t believe are in general agreement with having an atheist station, nor in general agreement with having a Nazi station or Ku Klux Klan station. I cannot accept or will not allow a group that is disparaging of another group to have a station here.
But when a city opens up its facilities to the community, it can't pick and choose who gets to use them, and it certainly can't favor religious groups over nonreligious ones. That's why the ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan – along with Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom From Religion Foundation – filed a lawsuit last week on behalf of Marshall.
Let's be clear: No one's trying to get rid of the Prayer Station. But if the city gives a forum to one speaker, it can't silence another speaker just because it dislikes the message.
Pretty sure there's room for both a prayer station and a reason station, guys.