FFRF member, Douglas Marshall, is suing the City of Warren, Mich., after his request to install a “reason station” in the atrium of City Hall was rejected.
The City allows a local church group to run a prayer station in which volunteers distribute religious pamphlets, offer to pray with passersby, and discuss their religious beliefs with people who approach the station.
In April 2014, Marshall submitted an application to city officials to reserve space in the atrium for his “reason station” two days a week. Marshall wished to set up a station that is similar in size, structure and function to the prayer station – a folding table and chairs with literature on display and available to the public – except that his station will offer information and opportunities for discussion from a non-religious perspective. The station would be operated by Mr. Marshall and other volunteers. Less than two weeks after it was submitted, Marshall’s application was rejected by Warren Mayor James Fouts because Marshall’s belief system “is not a religion.”
Marshall is asking the court to declare the City’s denial of his request to reserve and use the atrium space a violation of his First Amendment rights and to enter preliminary and permanent injunctions requiring the City to allow the reason station.
Mr. Marshall is represented by attorneys from FFRF, Americans United and the ACLU. The lawsuit was filed in the Eastern District of Michigan on July 23, 2014. The case (No. 14-CV-12872) has been assigned to Judge Marianne Battani.
To protect the First Amendment rights of all residents of Warren, Mich., regardless of religious or philosophical beliefs or non-beliefs, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a federal lawsuit this morning challenging the city’s ban on an atheist booth in a city hall atrium where the city allows a prayer station.
The atrium has been set up by city officials as a public space that can be reserved by a wide variety of groups and individuals, including civic organizations and Warren residents. But the mayor is not allowing an atheist to use space in the atrium because his belief system “is not a religion.”
Since 2009, the city has allowed a local church group to run a prayer station in which volunteers distribute religious pamphlets, offer to pray with passersby, and discuss their religious beliefs with people who approach the station. The lawsuit filed today does not seek to have the prayer station removed, but instead asks the court to order the city to treat believers and non-believers equally.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Douglas Marshall, a Warren resident whose request to install a “reason station” was rejected by the city. Marshall wishes to set up a station that is similar in size, structure and function to the prayer station – a folding table and chairs with literature on display and available to the public – except that his station will offer information and opportunities for discussion from a non-religious perspective.
“Our Warren member simply wants the same access to the atrium that has been granted to others, including those who operate the prayer station,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “There’s no legally justifiable reason to deny Mr. Marshall his First Amendment rights.”
Said Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan deputy legal director: “Once the government opens public space for use by private groups, it cannot pick and choose who can use the space based on the content of their message or whether public officials agree with that message. For instance, Warren officials would not be permitted to grant access to activists supportive of the mayor and reject the applications of activists who are critical of the mayor. The same logic extends to this matter: the city cannot allow speech supportive of religion and reject speech supportive of atheism.”
“The city has an obligation to serve all members of the community equally, regardless of their faith or their lack of faith,” said Americans United Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser. “Our laws make it clear that our government can’t adopt a rule book that favors one group over another.”
In April 2014, Marshall submitted an application to city officials to reserve space in the atrium for two days a week. According to the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Marshall and other volunteers who operate the reason station would offer to have philosophical discussions with passersby who express an interest in a secular belief system.
Less than two weeks after it was submitted, Marshall’s application, although nearly identical to the application submitted by the prayer station volunteers, was rejected by Warren Mayor James Fouts. In the rejection letter, Mayor Fouts writes:
“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.”
"The government can't simply silence private speakers whenever it dislikes their message,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. "Nobody should be excluded from their own city hall based on what they believe — or don’t believe.”
In addition to Korobkin, Luchenitser, and Mach, Marshall is represented by Ayesha N. Khan of Americans United; Rebecca Markert and Patrick Elliott of the Freedom from Religion Foundation; and Michael J. Steinberg, Kary Moss and William Wertheimer of the ACLU of Michigan.
To read the complaint, click here.
To read the motion for preliminary injunction that was filed along with the complaint, click here.
An affiliate of the Freedom From Religion Foundation
Our goal: To educate the public on matters of non-theism and protect the First Amendment – Separation of Religion from Government.
FFRF-Georgia is a local chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. We are a non-religious community of local people committed to living our lives free from superstition, dogma and mysticism. We are freethinkers – people who form opinions about religion and spirituality independent of tradition, authority, or established belief in favor of rational inquiry.
Our members are composed of Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, Skeptics, Deists and secular-minded people still searching for answers who come from all walks of life. The common thread we all share is that we uphold the US and Georgia Constitutional principles of separation between government and religion.
Living in the current “Christian Frenzy” era, that has been gaining popularity by leaps and bounds since the mid-1950’s, accelerated by 9/11, we must be ever more vigilant about Christian Fundamentalism working hard to dominate the political arena at all levels.
Atlanta is wonderfully supplied with many organizations which all provide many social opportunities for the local freethinkers such as book clubs, community service projects, skeptic gatherings, historical discussions, notable speakers, activist opportunities and other events. This FFRF chapter participates and supports these types of events and encourages members looking for these social opportunities to join freethinker groups in the area.
The reason we formed this chapter is to support eyes and ears on the ground for separation issues. We locally organize and educate the public, submit letters to the editor, news releases, deliver legally savvy communication to our local government agencies, including one-on-one encounters, as appropriate, by our members, and legally taking appropriate action to preserve our rights when necessary.
If you are a freethinker who is supportive of the separation of church and state, please feel free to email us with any questions you have. To join our local Chapter, first join the national FFRF organization at http://ffrf.org, and then send us an email to FFRF-GA Treasurer to join locally.
President, Michael Scott
Legal, Jon Poss
Community Outreach, Terri Goins
Treasurer, Mark Banks
By Eric Jayne
There’s a lot of excitement in Minneapolis about the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star game coming to town in July, but perhaps an even better (and far more affordable) game will be played four days earlier at the other Minnesota Twin City across the river.
On Friday, July 11, the city of Saint Paul will be unofficially rebranded as “Mister Paul” as it hosts an atheist-themed minor league baseball game. The Saint Paul Saints minor league team will change its name to the secular-friendly Mister Paul Aints for the third year in a row in what is being billed as a “Night of Unbelievable Fun: The Third Strike.” It’s sponsored by the Minnesota Atheists and Freedom from Religion Foundation.
After losing the first two years, the Mr. Paul Aints will be going for their first win when they face the Kansas City T-Bones. There will be pregame tailgating, postgame fireworks, atheist-themed antics and even atheist-themed jerseys that will be worn by the home team players.
The specially designed jerseys (featuring a big red “A”) will be auctioned off during the game. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Family Place shelter, which serves area families without permanent housing. The front office staff will also cover the “S” in the Saints signage and hang banners promoting Minnesota Atheists and FFRF throughout Midway Stadium.
Some of the atheist “antics” are still being developed for this year’s game, but I know for certain that fans can expect an even louder and more skeptical “Doubting Thomas” in July. That very same character was quickly ejected last year after he demanded more evidence from the umpire after an inning-ending call.
At a time when athletes continue to publicly invoke their religious beliefs, and with the relatively recent injection of “God Bless America” replacing “buy me some peanuts and Crackerjacks” during MLB’s seventh-inning stretch, a brief introduction to this baseball team boldly choosing to partner with organized atheism might be in order.
Partly owned by comedian/actor Bill Murray, the Saints have gained national attention for their promotions and for the theatrics during the game. One of my favorite promotions was the Michael Vick dog chew toy that was given away during the NFL quarterback’s federal investigation for his involvement in a dog fighting ring.
Besides topical humor, there’s genuine tolerance and an open attitude within the Saints organization that falls directly in line with freethinking values. Mike Veeck, another part owner of the Saints, was heavily influential in the team’s signing of the first woman to play in minor league professional baseball.
In 1997, 50 years after Veeck’s father (Bill Veeck) helped bring racial integration to the American League by signing Larry Doby to the Cleveland Indians, Ila Borders made her first appearance with the Saints as a relief pitcher. Although she only played a few games with the Saints, she found success with two other teams in the league before retiring.
I refuse to make up some corny baseball metaphor about atheism, but I will say that the combo will be unbelievably fun. The tailgating will start at 4 p.m. in the stadium parking lot. The first pitch will be at 7 p.m. If you’re interested in winning the opportunity to toss out the first ceremonial pitch from the pitcher’s mound, visit MinnesotaAtheists.org/FirstPitch/.
Game tickets are available at SaintsGroups.com/. After you get through the Captcha screen you’ll need to enter the group password “Atheists” with an uppercase A. You might want to consider staying in town the next day and join other friendly heathens for a regional, one-day conference in downtown Saint Paul on Saturday, July 12.
Speakers include Susan Jacoby, Debbie Goddard, PZ Myers, Rebecca “Skepchick” Watson and others. For more details about the baseball game and conference, visit MinnesotaAtheists.org/conference/.
FFRF member Eric Jayne is president of Minnesota Atheists.
Name: Olivia Mote.
Where and when I was born: Indiana (the Land of Casseroles), 1986.
Family: Two lovely, doting parents and two equally lovely siblings.
Education: DePauw University, Greencastle, Ind., B.A., religious studies and political science; Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, M.A., comparative religion; University of Wisconsin-Madison, J.D. candidate.
My religious upbringing was: United Methodist.
How I came to work as an FFRF legal intern: I learned about FFRF at a law school event, found the organization’s mission compelling, attended its fall convention, sent an “I’d like to participate” email — and here I am.
What I do here: Draft/edit letters for staff attorneys and absorb as much First Amendment “stuff” as possible. I also try not to upset the copy machine.
What I like best about it: Even though I’m still learning the ropes, I feel like the projects I work on here truly matter. I’m also learning a lot about advocacy, and from a different perspective than I get in class.
Something funny that’s happened at work: Every day has its entertaining moments!
My legal interests are: Constitutional law, state/church separation, business and nonprofits, education policy, comparative law and probably other areas to be determined.
My legal heroes are: Attorneys who think empathy is important in the practice of law.
These three words sum me up: Enthusiastic, curious, freckled.
Things I like: School (still!), cooking, making lists of all the places I want to eat in Madison, playing outdoors, my fluffy dog Ruby (her name’s a tribute to the Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday”), NPR (especially “The Diane Rehm Show”).
Things I smite: Meanness.
My loftiest goal: I’m not good at picking favorites. One of them — graduate from law school with (some kind of) honors.
Name: Arthur J. Naebig Jr.
Born: 1937, Chicago, Ill.
Currently living in: La Valle, Wis. [about 25 miles west of Wisconsin Dells]. I moved here for the bicycle trails.
Education: Sacred Heart Grammar School, Chicago Vocational High School, Woodrow Wilson Jr. College, Chicago Teachers College (B. Ed.).
Occupation: Retired from teaching automotive technology for 21 years at Kennedy-King College in Chicago.
How I got where I am today: Thanks to a free college education available to residents of Chicago back when corporations and the rich actually paid taxes.
Where I’m headed: Who knows?
Person in history I admire: Ben Franklin, a genius who knew how to enjoy life.
A quotation I like: “When religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, ’tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.” — Benjamin Franklin
A few of my favorite things: Science, the natural world, good food.
These are not: Fast food, climate change deniers, religion and other kinds of scams.
My doubts about religion started: At age 8 or 9 when the nuns were telling us outrageous things we were supposed to believe.
Before I die: I hope the Fountain of Youth will finally be discovered.
Ways I promote freethought: I write letters to newspapers to refute lies and misinformation in letters they have printed from other readers — usually, but not always, of a religious nature.
I wish you’d have asked me: “What would you tell young people?” Don’t believe anything you’re told unless you have checked it out for yourself. Don’t be afraid to call bullshit what it is.
This is a letter to FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel that the local complainant agreed to share (with identifying information removed to preserve anonymity) after FFRF legal staff successfully resolved several state/church violations. A teacher was disciplined and the school adopted a policy requiring staff to sign an acknowledgment that they must remain neutral toward religion at work.
FFRF really relies on its members and supportive nonmembers to keep us in the loop about potential violations.
Dear Mr. Seidel:
You can’t imagine how excited and relieved I am to read your email! I don’t think I can truly express it in words, but I’m going to try.
Being one ordinary parent at a small school in a conservative state, I didn’t have much hope initially that your group would take on our cause. To my knowledge, this is the very first time in [this school’s] history that a staff member has been disciplined for foisting religious beliefs on students. You are correct that victory is the only word that fits!
This victory is one that I hope will send a message loud and clear — to those on staff and in our parent community who feel they have tacit permission to violate the rights of others because they suffer no consequences for doing so — that [the school] will not tolerate the violation of the law and the rights of students.
I am happy to report that I attended a school music program on Tuesday night held in [the auditorium now owned by a church], and I saw that it was prepared in the manner it should have been prepared all along. All religious images were covered, all religious signs and literature were out of sight, and for the first time I felt that the venue was a neutral space that showed respect for all parents and students in attendance. This is huge!
The progress shown in that area, and the fact that [the teacher] will be held accountable and disciplined for his actions, speaks volumes to parents who have become discouraged and simply numb to the prevailing culture at [the school]. Our school community has lost many families who have given up on seeing any change or who were ultimately worn down from a continual battle that got them nowhere ([my friend and her] family among them).
I hope what you have accomplished on our behalf will stop other good families from walking out the door. When issues are addressed swiftly and decisively, parents can feel confident that their concerns will be heard and the rights of their children respected.
This whole issue forced me to become more outspoken and more involved than I ever planned or wanted to be at my kids’ school. It forced me to fight against the urge to be a “pleaser” and avoid making waves. It illustrated to me that avoiding conflict at the expense of doing the right thing is not a strategy I can accept.
I have long been resigned to “going down swinging” for this cause. You can’t imagine how good it feels to experience a win for a change. Although the words are inadequate, on behalf of many other parents who shared my concern, we give you our most sincere thanks. You are awesome!
Peggy Porter Koenig, friend of FFRF, writes: “While I was growing up, this statue, which we referred to as ‘Jesus on the Ball,’ was smack dab in the middle of a public park [in Marshfield, Wis.]. Then FFRF got him his own private park. Thank goodness for the Freedom From Religion Foundation.”
FFRF and the late Clarence Reinders of Marshfield sued in 1998 over the display with its “Christ Guide Us On Our Way” wording and prevailed nearly three years later when a federal appeals court ordered U.S. District Judge John Shabaz to oversee erection of a wall or fence with a prominent disclaimer in the park.
Shabaz initially dismissed FFRF’s suit after the city sold a parcel in the park to a group formed to save the statue. The appeals court ruled Feb. 4, 2000, that the sale didn’t remedy the constitutional violation.
The Catholic Knights of Columbus, a men’s group renowned for trying to turn America into a theocracy, had donated the statue to the city in 1959. Losing the suit cost the city about $60,000 in legal fees and fencing and sign costs.
Reinders, an FFRF Life Member who died in 2012, wrote at the time that leaving “the religious idol” in the park and fencing it off was the best outcome, though he was initially disappointed it was allowed to stay. “Whenever anyone looks at the idol in its newly imprisoned setting, they will see the fruits of our labors in defense of the First Amendment. With the fence and disclaimer signs, we have left our freethought mark of state/church separation for posterity.”
Goto ffrf.org/legal for more on FFRF’s litigation and to ffrf.org/legal/other-legal-successes for other legal victories.
FFRF recently received a $17,000 bequest for its legal work from the Reinders’ estate. Clarence lives!
FFRF placed a patriotic red-white-and-blue secular display to counter an enormous Catholic Easter display at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago in April.
Two colorful 8-foot banners on a 12-foot structure promoting the secular views of founding fathers were placed with the help of the FFRF Metropolitan Chicago chapter and three FFRF staff attorneys — Patrick Elliott, Andrew Seidel and Sam Grover. The trio drove to Chicago from Madison, Wis., to install the display with chapter help on a wooden structure they built for the back-to-back banners.
One banner reads: “In Reason We Trust” and pictured Thomas Jefferson, displaying his famous advice to a nephew, “Question with boldness even the existence of a god.” The other side proclaimed, “Keep State & Religion Separate,” and pictured President John Adams, who signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which assured “. . . the government of the United States is not in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
The display countered religious displays and evangelism in Daley Plaza by the Catholic Thomas More Society, which has evangelized in the plaza every Easter for several years. The group’s aim, through its “Divine Mercy Project,” is to seek the “conversion of Chicago, America and the Whole World.”
Rather than place such displays on church grounds, the society explicitly seeks to take over public property for its purposes, claiming that at Daley Plaza it encounters “militants, feminists, Satanists, radical Muslims, just about everybody.”
The society placed a 10-foot-tall painting of Jesus that it claims was miraculously inspired, with the statement “Jesus, I trust in you,” as well as a 14-foot cross. In past years, supporters have also held 24-hour prayer vigils, distributed thousands of prayer cards and hosted anti-abortion rallies in front of the Jesus painting.
FFRF additionally had two smaller posters affixed to each side of its display, explaining its purpose, written by Tom Cara, Chicago chapter director: “Not looking to convert? Neither are we,” protesting use of government property to endorse the beliefs of a specific religious group. Another poster questioned the “divine mercy” of the bible, upon which Catholicism is predicated.
FFRF and its Chicago-area chapter in December placed an 8-foot lighted “A” (for atheism and agnosticism) and banner celebrating the “birth of the Bill of Rights” to counter a huge nativity display erected annually for decades.
FFRF thanks Patrick Elliott, who initiated the project, as well as Andrew Seidel and Sam Grover for building the display with Patrick, and Tom Cara and other chapter volunteers for their help in erecting, dismantling and storing the newsmaking displays.
Name: Alexis Palmer. I go by Lexi.
Where and when I was born: Burnsville, Minn., May 1992.
Family: My parents still live in the house that I grew up in back in cold Minnesota. I have a sister, Payton, who is a year younger than I am. She goes to school in a much warmer state, Arizona.
Education: I’m a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (and could not be prouder to be a Badger). I’m completing my legal studies and political science majors.
My religious upbringing was: I grew up as a Lutheran, so working for FFRF has really opened my eyes to an entirely different side of law and different way of helping people.
How I came to work as an FFRF legal intern: Naturally, I was looking for some legal experience, and I became interested in the work that FFRF does.
What I do here: My day-to-day work usually differs depending on the week; generally I assist the staff attorneys with drafting letters of complaint or help research specific issues involving religion.
What I like best about it: Assisting people who turn to this organization as a source of hope when they feel discriminated against. The first day I truly realized the impact of the work that FFRF does was the day a complainant responded to one of my emails thanking me over and over again for the work that we do and the difference that we make for people like him.
My legal interests are: I don’t dream of becoming famous. I just want to become a lawyer so I can help people who can’t help themselves and truly see the difference that I am making for them.
These three words sum me up: Charismatic, compassionate and determined.
Things I like: My favorite thing in the world is my cat, Gucci, who lives with my parents. I am definitely a cat person. I also really love trying new and authentic food. Every member of my family is definitely a “foodie,” and we love to go out and try all types of restaurants.
Things I smite: Shopping of any sort, unless it’s shopping for other people’s gifts. I don’t make decisions very quickly, so shopping is not an easy task for me. Another thing that I smite is the show “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” for hopefully obvious reasons.
My loftiest goal: To travel to every country in the world and spend at least a week in each one before I die. I have traveled throughout much of Europe and spent my last spring semester in Spain studying Spanish. The next continent on my list is South America.
I strongly believe that everyone should travel and see the rest of the world!