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Sorry Mr. Mayor, But Atheists Have Rights, Too

Carrie Ellen Sager,
PFRB Legal Fellow,
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July 23, 2014

They say you can’t fight city hall, but sometimes there’s no other choice.

The residents of Warren, Michigan, visit their city hall on a regular basis to pay taxes, to vote, and to visit the library branch and the farmers market that are located there. Since 2009, they have also been able to visit a “Prayer Station” in the building’s large atrium.

Set up by a local church under a city policy that lets civic organizations and residents reserve space, the table is staffed by volunteers, who pass out religious literature and invite passersby to pray with them or come to their church.

Douglas Marshall, an atheist, often passed the Prayer Station and decided to set up a similar “Reason Station” to offer information on atheism and free thought. But when he submitted an application, the mayor refused to accept it. He told Marshall that he would allow any religious group to use the atrium, but not Marshall, who he claimed was “anti-religion” and trying “to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms.”

But when a city opens up its facilities to the community, it can’t pick and choose who gets to use them, and it certainly can’t favor religious groups over nonreligious ones. That’s why the ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan – along with Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom From Religion Foundation – filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Marshall.

Let’s be clear: No one’s trying to get rid of the Prayer Station. But if the city gives a forum to one speaker, it can’t silence another speaker just because it dislikes the message.

So to recap…

When Douglas Marshall walked into city hall and saw there was a Prayer Station there, he was like

Cat jumping around lizards

But when he asked the mayor if he could set up a Reason Station, the mayor was like

Donald Glover screaming 'No'

So now the ACLU is like

Nathan Fillion shaking his head

But to be clear, our lawsuit aims to protect the First Amendment rights of all Warren residents, regardless of their religious or philosophical beliefs or non-beliefs.

Pretty sure there’s room for both a prayer station and a reason station, guys.

'Girl with Feelings' from 'Mean Girls'

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