Freedom From Religion Foundation member Douglas Marshall, who previously sued the city of Warren, Mich., when it censored his attempt to place a freethought winter solstice sign in its city atrium, has been censored again by Warren Mayor James R. Fouts.
Marshall sought a permit to place a table in the atrium of city hall on Thursday, May 1, the date of the federally-proclaimed National Day of Prayer. A “Prayer Station” has been setting up shop for years in this same city atrium with city approval.
Fouts turned down Marshall’s request in an April 15 letter, writing: “All of these events are allowed because of the right to freedom of religion constitutional amendment [sic]. We cannot and will not restrict this right for any religion to use the atrium, as long as the activity is open to all religions.
“To my way of thinking, your group is strictly an anti-religion group intending to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms or at least discourage the practice of religion. The City of Warren cannot allow this.”
Fouts’ refusal is a legal “smoking gun,” showing outright government censorship of freethought and government endorsement of religion, said Annie Laurie Gaylor, who co-directs the Madison, Wis.-baesd FFRF, the nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics and a state/church watchdog.
“It is an axiom of U.S. law that if the government creates a public forum, it may not discriminate, or favor religious messages over nonreligious messages,” she noted.
When Fouts allowed a nativity display, but censored FFRF’s sign critical of religion — which he called “highly offensive,” FFRF and Marshall challenged Fouts, filing a federal suit in December 2011. The lawsuit, which included both a free speech and Establishment Clause claim, was lost at the Sixth Circuit in February 2013.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert noted that a challenge of the most recent censorship could proceed solely as a free speech case.