City of Clarksville Ends Preferential Treatment of Religious Group

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
December 22, 2009 12:00 am

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ACLU-TN Applauds City’s Efforts


CLARKSVILLE, TN – The City of Clarksville recently moved to end City payment for religious displays and to create a policy and application process governing access to the City’s McGregor Park Riverwalk in order to ensure that all groups have equal access to City parks and facilities. The move came after weeks of negotiation with the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN), which had expressed concern with the City’s promotion of religion in its Christmas on the Cumberland celebration.

“As the ACLU promotes religious freedom for all people, our goal was never to get rid of the nativity display in the park. Rather, we wanted to ensure that the display was privately sponsored and that all Clarksvillians had equal access to City spaces,” said Tricia Herzfeld, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Tennessee. “It is gratifying that the City of Clarksville worked with ACLU-TN to resolve this issue and to bring the City’s celebration into compliance with state and federal law.”

ACLU-TN initially expressed its concerns over the display to the City by letter on November 11, 2009, after several residents of Clarksville contacted ACLU-TN with concerns that the City’s annual celebration appeared to single out a particular religious view for favorable treatment.

Upon investigation, ACLU-TN learned that the City of Clarksville annually invited a private church to perform a nativity play, provided funding for the animals used in the production and promoted the performance as a part of the City’s Christmas on the Cumberland event without including a disclaimer anywhere to demonstrate that the City did not endorse the message of this particular church. In addition, the City did not have an established process for groups to obtain space in the park for the event, in effect limiting other groups’ access to space in the park during the celebration.

ACLU-TN immediately contacted City officials to discuss its concerns and to share suggestions for ways to bring the City’s annual celebration into compliance with state and federal law without a lawsuit. The organization chose not to comment to the media during this process in order to prevent undo influence on negotiations with the City. Through these discussions, the City agreed to end payment for religious displays and events; to create a policy and application process governing access to City parks to prevent preferential treatment of groups with particular views; and to place a sign at the Christmas on the Cumberland event indicating that the nativity display is sponsored by a private organization.

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