Last summer, Warren mayor James Fouts denied an athiest group the right to have a “Reason Station” in the Michigan city’s City Hall. The Reason Station was athiest Douglas Marshall’s response to a “Prayer Station” the mayor had allowed to set up shop in the City Hall atrium.
When denying the permit to Marshall, Fouts compared athiests to the KKK and Nazis, saying, “The city has certain values that I don’t believe are in general agreement with having an atheist station, nor in general agreement with having a Nazi station or Klu Klux Klan station.”
The ACLU, in conjunction with Americans United and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, filed suit and, yesterday, they scored a win:
If a church can have a prayer station inside city hall, then an atheist can have a reason station there, too.
That’s what a federal judge concluded today in ordering the city of Warren to allow an atheist man to set up a so-called “reason station” in the atrium at city hall, similar to the one his religious counterparts have.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael J. Hluchaniuk never mentioned the words “freedom of religion” or “separation of church and state” in his order, but rather focused on ensuring that believers and non-believers receive the same type of access to city hall.
“The reason station will be allowed to operate on terms not less favorable than the terms granted to the prayer station,” wrote Hluchaniuk, who also ordered the city of Warren to pay the ACLU $100,000 for costs and attorney fees.
Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Michigan and lead counsel in the lawsuit issued this statement:
This settlement serves as a reminder that government officials have no business deciding which religious messages can and cannot be allowed into our public spaces. The First Amendment guarantees us all the right to speak freely about our beliefs—or lack thereof. Mr. Marshall should be lauded for resisting the mayor’s attempt to silence him by favoring religious groups over non-religious groups.
This is not a “freedom of religion” or even a “freedom FROM religion” issue. It’s a free speech issue. Mayor Fouts may not like the speech he is hearing but if he’s going to let a group from one side of an issue set up shop in his City Hall, he is compelled to allow the other side equal access.
At least he is now. And it cost his city’s taxpayers $100,000 to find out.