When it comes to equal rights for atheists, you can fight city hall. Or at least put a booth in it
image via (cc) flickr user trommetter
If you’re headed to Warren, Michigan, and feel the need for some thoughtful philosophical conversation, you could do worse than to check out the town’s city hall. There you’ll soon find local resident Douglas Marshall at his “Reason Station,” where you can engage with Marshall in a spirited debate on philosophy, atheism, and the secular belief system.
This week, U.S. federal judge Michael J. Hluchaniuk ruled in favor of a lawsuit brought last year by Marshall, an atheist, after his request to set up the reason station in Warren’s city hall had been denied. As Warren’s mayor, James Fouts, explained to the Detroit Free Press, he’d initially rejected the reason booth because he “was afraid this would promote conflict in city hall.” Fouts reportedly wrote to Marshall, saying:
To my way of thinking, your group [the “Freedom From Religion Foundation”] is strictly an anti-religion group intending to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms or at least discourage the practice of religion. The City of Warren cannot allow this.
Warren’s city hall already houses a “Prayer Station,” operated by a local church, which, according to a release put out by the American Civil Liberties Union, had been allowed to:
distribute religious pamphlets, offer to pray with passersby and discuss their religious beliefs with those who approach the station
Marshall’s lawsuit, filed with the help of the ACLU, argued that his first amendment rights had been violated by the city’s show of preference for another group’s religion, over his lack of one. Judge Hluchaniuk agreed, awarding Marshall the right to erect his kiosk, as well as ordering the city to cover ACLU’s $100,000 in legal expenses. Said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief: “It makes clear that city hall should be open to everyone—not just those who share government officials’ religious beliefs.”