Marshall enforces law without a badge

City Hall in Warren, Mich., got a lot more reasonable on April 28 thanks to activist and FFRF member Douglas Marshall, who was finally allowed to set up a “reason station” in the building atrium after a legal battle for equal treatment.

For years, the city let volunteers at a “prayer station” inside City Hall distribute religious pamphlets and offer to pray and discuss their religious beliefs with passersby. Marshall submitted an application in April 2014 to city officials to reserve atrium space two days a week for a reason station, where he would offer to engage in philosophical discussions with those who expressed an interest in a secular belief system.

But less than two weeks after it was submitted, Marshall’s application — although nearly identical to the one submitted by the church sponsoring the prayer station — was rejected by Mayor James Fouts. In his rejection letter, Fouts accused Marshall of “intending to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms or at least discourage the practice of religion.” (Fouts called FFRF “un-American” after FFRF sued him and the city in late 2011 over a nativity scene.)

Noting that the atrium was established as a public forum, FFRF, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of Marshall in July 2014. The suit was settled in February, with the city agreeing to treat nonbelievers and believers equally.

The reason station will be open and staffed from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. On opening day, about eight people expressed interest, Marshall said. “One lady thanked me for my persistence. One man said he was glad we were there and said he specifically came to welcome us. A few others came up and stated that they were also nonbelievers.”

Local and major media, including the Detroit Free Press, covered the opening. Linda Jackson, 74, told the Free Press she stopped to pray but said, “It’s a public place. I guess all are welcome, whether they believe Jesus is the reason or they don’t.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation