In response to being named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation over a nativity scene violation, Warren Mayor James R. Fouts (Mich.) is lashing out, calling FFRF’s message “un-American.”
FFRF filed a lawsuit Dec. 22 charging Fouts with government censorship of its nonreligious views and with unlawful endorsement of religion. FFRF complained in 2010 over the placement of a nativity scene in the atrium of Warren City Hall. Fouts responded that “all religions are welcome to celebrate their religious seasons with a display in city hall.” When Warren resident and FFRF member Douglas Marshall repeatedly tried to obtain permission to place a freethought Winter Solstice sign next to the crèche, he was refused.
Fouts’ responded to the lawsuit by faxing FFRF’s litigation attorney, Danielle J. Hassell, a letter reiterating his unconstitutional intention to permit only “any organized recognized religion” to place displays in city hall “to celebrate their holy season.”
“A city cannot create a public forum to promote only religion, or only those views on religion which its mayor favors,” comments FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.
FFRF, based in Madison, Wis., is a state/church watchdog also serving as the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics). It has more than 17,000 members nationwide, including more than 500 in Michigan.
In his Dec. 29 letter to Hassell, full of grammatical errors, Fouts called FFRF’s “non-religion” message “un-American.”
“Au contraire,” avers Annie Laurie Gaylor, who co-directs FFRF with Barker. “It is not ‘un-American’ to have no religion. In fact, it’s as American as apple pie to criticize religion, especially religion in government! In America we are free to accept or reject any religion we like, without government interference. Thomas Jefferson counseled: ‘Question with boldness even the existence of a God.’ James Madison, primary architect of our secular Constitution, warned that ‘torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world’ by governments which interfered in the personal conscience of citizens.”
FFRF v. City of Warren, was filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, by the firm of Butzel Long in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., which is representing both FFRF and its member plaintiff pro bono. FFRF alleges censorship, establishment of Christianity and denial of equal protection under the law by the city of Warren.
The mayor previously called FFRF’s sign “highly offensive.” Fouts compared FFRF’s request to place its sign to putting up a “sandwich board saying that there is no Santa Claus.” Fouts stated: “I cannot and will not sanction the desecration of religion in the Warren City hall atrium.”
FFRF's Winter Solstice sign, specifically coined to counter religious displays on government property, reads:
"At this season of the Winter Solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."
The complaint calls Fouts’ denial of a permit to Marshall “an unconstitutional, content-based restriction on Plaintiffs’ expression in a traditional public forum.” The mayor’s preference for the nativity display, and discriminatory practice against the plaintiffs also denies them equal protection under the law.
FFRF had asked the court to enjoin the mayor from barring the FFRF sign. Because the nativity scene was scheduled to be removed before the hearing could be scheduled, the motion for a preliminary injunction has been withdrawn. The case determining the constitutionality of Fouts’ actions will continue.