City sued over censorship

After being denied a request to put up a display in a city park, FFRF has sued the city of Shelton, Conn., and its mayor and parks director.

FFRF, along with member and local resident Jerome H. Bloom, filed suit March 22 in U.S. District Court, Connecticut.

The American Legion has been allowed to erect a display, featuring heralding angels, every December for at least four years in Shelton’s Constitution Park. The Legion claims its organization was founded to acknowledge “God as the source of all our rights and freedoms.”

FFRF’s suit challenges the city for allowing the park to have a religious display, but not a nonreligious one.

“The angel display in the park constitutes not only a religious display, but one with a sectarian message, since the display is put up every December to coincide with the traditional celebration of the birth of Jesus, as heralded by angels,” FFRF charges in the suit.

Megan Spicer of the Connecticut Law Tribune pointed out that Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, sides with FFRF.

“These are clearly losing cases for the local governments,” he told Spicer. “The reason they’re [FFRF] bringing these forward is because it’s the only way to challenge the government’s favoring religion over nonreligion. They’re trying to get the government to be more consistent under the First Amendment and not take sides.”

When Bloom and FFRF sought permission last November to counter such religiosity by placing a sign asserting, among other things, that there are “no angels,” they were turned down because the city deemed it “offensive to many.”

FFRF made three more attempts to resolve the dispute, but no satisfactory resolution occurred.

The city’s Mayor Mark A. Lauretti and Parks Director Ronald Herrick are co-defendants in the lawsuit.

FFRF and Bloom are seeking a judgment that the city’s censorship has violated their free speech rights under the First and 14th Amendments, as well as their equal protection rights, and a judgment enjoining the city from excluding their display in the future, as well as nominal damages and reasonable legal costs.

The case was filed in the courtroom of Judge Janet Bond Arterton (appointed by President Clinton) on behalf of the plaintiffs by Laurence J. Cohen of Springfield, Mass., with FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell and FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne serving as co-counsel. FFRF v. City of Shelton has case number 3:16-cv-00477.

Freedom From Religion Foundation