FFRF, member prevail in censorship lawsuit against Shelton, Conn. (February 22, 2017)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, with member Jerome H. Bloom, filed suit March 22, 2016, in U.S. District Court, Connecticut, against the city of Shelton and its mayor and parks director after their request to put up a display in a city park was denied. The American Legion, which boasts a religious mission to “bring all Americans closer to their Creator,” had been allowed to erect a display every December for at least four years in Constitution Park in Shelton featuring heralding angels. When Bloom and FFRF sought permission in November 2015 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 sued over impermissible viewpoint discrimination, asking the judge to enjoin the city from excluding its display in the future. It also formally stipulates that Huntington Green, an open space in the city, is a “public forum for private unattended displays.”

In late 2016, the city disallowed displays in Constitution Park, including the American Legion’s angel display. It also permitted FFRF to place its winter solstice display in Huntington Park, where the city also permitted a Christian nativity display. Unfortunately, FFRF’s sign was mutilated and destroyed, but FFRF and its local member continued to post displays in December as long as the nativity display was put up. The joint settlement agreement indicates the city agrees not to allow private unattended displays in Constitution Park, the source of the original censorship. The city agreed that anywhere it “allows private parties to erect unattended displays . . . it will allow plaintiffs to erect a display in that park, without regard to the content or viewpoint . . . so long as plaintiffs’ display complies with any neutral, written city policies regarding such displays.The city also agreed to pay FFRF its filing fees and other 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 Diane Uhl Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne served as co-counsel. FFRF v. City of Shelton has case number 3:16-cv-00477.

Freedom From Religion Foundation