The Freedom From Religion Foundation is objecting to a Michigan city's censorship of a freethinker on the National Day of Prayer.
Doug Marshall, a resident of Warren, Mich., secured the right last year to set up a Reason Station in the city hall after a hard-fought court battle in which FFRF, the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State assisted him. Yesterday, the city observed the National Day of Prayer on the building's lawn. Marshall, who had a permit reserving space in the indoor atrium, was booted out with less than 24 hours notice and without explanation. Upon questioning by FFRF, the city claimed that "the atrium will be set up as an alternate site in the case of rain or poor weather."
FFRF asserts that this behavior on the part of the city is unjustified and that it is punishing Marshall for his views. Added evidence for FFRF's contention is that the weather forecast for the day predicted no chance of rain. The city lacked any written criteria for revoking approval of a permitted event, which allowed the Reason Station to be restricted at the whim of city officials.
"It is apparent that the city and the Downtown Development Authority seek to continue to censor nonreligious speech," FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott writes to Assistant City Attorney Caitlin Murphy. "The fact that an outdoor event celebrating the National Day of Prayer is what is pre-empting the Reason Station is reason enough to find viewpoint discrimination."
Besides, FFRF says, rules must be reasonable, and the DDA hasn't been able to able to provide even the most basic justification for its decree. Plus, there wasn't a semblance of due process, with the permit-holders not able to challenge this censorship.
"We're more than disappointed at the continuing ill will displayed toward freethinking Warren citizens," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The city puts on an unconstitutional National Day of Prayer celebration, so this censorship of the Reason Station is pernicious."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nontheistic organization with 23,700 members, including more than 600 in Michigan.