Denver Public Forum Only For Religion by Robert Tiernan (Jan/Feb 2000)

The Foundation’s motion for a temporary court order to put its holiday solstice display on the steps of Denver City Hall alongside the City’s Christmas display was denied by the Colorado Federal District Court on Thursday, December 23.

The Foundation display states: “May reason prevail, there are no gods, no devils, no angels,” etc., refers to the Christ child as a religious myth, and concludes with a quote from the late President John F. Kennedy that “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.”

The Foundation made a very good case for a preliminary injunction, we believe, in the written memorandum of law. However, it was apparent from the moment District Court Judge Zita Weinshienk stepped into the courtroom that she had already made up her mind to rule against us.

Our position was that Denver City Hall is a “public forum” (an allegation not denied by the City) and that we have a right to place our message on the steps of City Hall just like Coors Beer, King Soopers, and the others whose names are emblazoned on a huge sign that is part of the City’s Christmas display.

The City’s position was that we do have a right to display our sign at City Hall but that it must be placed at the foot of the steps and, unlike the Nativity scene, be attended by a person at all times.

Our individual plaintiff, Julie Wells, testified that the Colorado Chapter does not have the man (woman) power for round-the-clock attendance and, that she is afraid of a violent confrontation by radicals of the religious right if she has to attend the sign personally.

Judge Weinshienk’s response was truly astonishing. She ruled that the City has the right to pick and choose who can use the steps of City Hall and who cannot. Her ruling on Julie’s concern for her physical safety was that she needs to get two strong men to protect her and, besides, she is free to display the sign almost anywhere else in the metropolitan area. It’s little wonder that there is a diminishing respect for the judiciary.

A decision has been made to appeal this ruling to the Federal Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Maybe we’ll get a panel that has some understanding of and respect for the Constitution although previous decisions of this Court on the subject of religion make that open to question. Status reports on this case will be carried in future editions of Freethought Today.

Robert Tiernan, an attorney, heads the Denver, Colorado chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation

Freedom From Religion Foundation