Something’s constitutionally amiss when the city of Blue Island, Ill., requires vehicle owners to advertise the 150th anniversary of a Catholic parish. So said a July 6 FFRF letter of complaint
to city officials.
Blue Island, a south Chicago suburb of about 23,000, levies a municipal vehicle tax and issues stickers that must be displayed inside the windshield. “The [2011-12] stickers give the impression to observers that the city approves of and wishes to celebrate St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church,” FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote. “The stickers say ‘Blue Island’ and ‘St. Benedict’ in large lettering and depict city buildings on an official, and required, vehicle sticker.” Underneath in large letters is “150 years.” Federal courts have consistently struck down symbolism that ties cities to religion, Elliott said. “Secular organizations certainly could have been honored, as there is no First Amendment problem with honoring the Blue Island Fire Department.” The city claimed the sticker acknowledges a special anniversary for St. Benedict. To that, Elliott rejoined, “Can you imagine the outcry if the city ‘acknowledged’ the opening of a Muslim mosque or the founding of an atheist group in Blue Island?”
About two weeks after FFRF’s letter went out, the Blue Island city attorney called Elliott and said that Mayor Donald Peloquin had instructed police not to cite residents who chose to cover up the religious part of the stickers. The city is working on a policy to avoid the issue in the future.