City in Michigan Being Sued by ACLU and Two Other Groups for Violating First Amendment Rights of an Atheist

Jim Fouts Mayor of Warren, Michigan

Jim Fouts
Mayor of Warren, Michigan

By Elaine Magliaro

In July, the American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan and two other groups filed a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction against the Detroit suburb of Warren because it banned an atheist booth from being set up in a municipal building. Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom from Religion Foundation joined the ACLU in the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division. Their lawsuit says that Warren, a city with a population of approximately 140,000 people, allows a church group to “run a ‘prayer station,’ distribute religious materials, discuss religious beliefs and pray with visitors in a City Hall atrium but refuses to let atheist Douglas Marshall use the same space.”

The lawsuit says that Marshall’s request last April “to install a ‘reason station’ was rejected” by Jim Fouts, the mayor of Warren. It claims that Fouts violated Marshall’s First Amendment rights by endorsing “traditional religious beliefs over atheistic beliefs.” Dan Korbkin, the deputy director of the Michigan ACLU, said, “Once the government opens public space for use by private groups, it cannot pick and choose who can use the space based on the content of their message or whether public officials agree with that message.” He added, “The city cannot allow speech supportive of religion and reject speech supportive of atheism.”

Mayor Fouts told the Associated Press that “Marshall’s ‘reason station’ would be diametrically opposed to prayer.” Fouts also said that 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 Ku Klux Klan station.” He continued, “I cannot accept or will not allow a group that is disparaging of another group to have a station here.”

Fouts, who has allowed a prayer group to run a station where they hand out fliers and offer prayers to passersby since 2009, rejected Marshall’s “request to run a ‘reason station’ where he would offer to have philosophical discussions with people who walk by in the city hall atrium.”

Fouts told the AP that members of the prayer group “don’t walk up to people.” He said, “They are just there if someone wishes to seek solace or guidance from them. The atheist station does not serve that purpose. It will not contribute to community values or helping an individual out.” According to a statement made by the ACLU, Fouts wrote to Marshall to tell him that “his station would not be permitted because his group is an anti-religion group intending to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms or at least discourage the practice of religion.”

Excerpt from the lawsuit’s introductory statement:

When the government opens a forum for private speech, it must treat viewpoints equally, and it is strictly forbidden from favoring religious expression over non-religious speech. In this case, the government has opened a forum in which religious speech is allowed, but plaintiff’s atheist speech is prohibited. This is unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.

SOURCES

Michigan GOP Mayor Compares Atheists To Nazis, KKK (Talking Points Memo)

GOP mayor compares atheists to Nazis and the KKK; Mayor Jim Fouts refuses to give atheists a station in city hall because of “values” (Salon)

Rejected atheist booth in city hall draws lawsuit (Houston Chronicle/AP)

Atheists File Lawsuit Against Michigan City Over Rejection of ‘Reason Station’ (The Christian Post)

Mayor Sued By ACLU Compares Atheist Near Prayer Group To KKK At MLK Event (Huffington Post)

This entry was posted in Atheism, Constitutional Law, Courts, Free Speech, Local Government, Religion, United States. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to City in Michigan Being Sued by ACLU and Two Other Groups for Violating First Amendment Rights of an Atheist

  1. bigfatmike says:

    “his station would not be permitted because his group is an anti-religion group intending to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms or at least discourage the practice of religion.”

    It is interesting to me that merely being an atheist willing to reason is considered evidence of an intention to deprive others of their constitutional rights.

  2. Annie says:

    Who is to say that religious groups don’t disparage atheist groups? I bet my bottom dollar that the religious groups don’t tell the people they hand out religious tracts to that it’s OK to be an atheist. The Mayor is clearly favoring religious speech over secular speech. What of the First Amendment rights of an atheist group, or a Satanic Group, or any otjer group. The Mayor doesn’t have a Constitutional right to define “values”, does he?

  3. Mike Spindell says:

    Does Mayor Fouts think that this particular churches denomination is sharing a message saying that any particular religion, or sect is fine? I would suppose that this Church group is pushing the beliefs of their particular religious denomination. This clearly violates the First Amendment. In truth if the Atheists can’t set up a booth, then neither can the church. In fact the idea of a municipal building setting aside space for a church is I think in itself a violation of the First Amendment.

  4. bigfatmike says:

    ” In fact the idea of a municipal building setting aside space for a church is I think in itself a violation of the First Amendment.”

    I would prefer to have no religious groups in the municipal space. But if you allow one, I don’t see how you can reject any others including those with philosophical of scientific views of the world.

    I also find it surprising that merely being atheist and willing to reason with people is considered evidence of the intention ‘ to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms ‘.

  5. James Knauer says:

    Fouts also said that 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 Ku Klux Klan station.”

    Conflate much? How does this vile lumping together promote the “certain values” of Warren? The good mayor does understand the responsibilities of his office.

    And when that wasn’t enough, he goes on with “It will not contribute to community values or helping an individual out.” Because only “the faithful” know how to do that.

    Rank exclusion is not going to work nearly as well in the future. We know too much now.

  6. blouise says:

    What an idiot. Now the good citizens will see the premium for their municipal insurance increase substantially because no City Attorney will be able to handle such a law suite and in order to reduce the cost of the settlement that is as certain to come as the sun rising every morning, a specialized law firm will have to retained. Stupidity costs.

  7. Bob, Esq. says:

    There’s probably a more current case, but this one will do:

    “Just as the right to speak and the right to refrain from speaking are complementary components of a broader concept of individual freedom of mind, so also the individual’s freedom to choose his own creed is the counterpart of his right to refrain from accepting the creed established by the majority. At one time it was thought that this right merely proscribed the preference of one Christian sect over another, but would not require equal respect for the conscience of the infidel, the atheist, or the adherent of a non-Christian faith such as Islam or Judaism. 36 But when the underlying principle has been examined in the crucible of litigation, the [472 U.S. 38, 53] Court has unambiguously concluded that the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all. 37 WALLACE v. JAFFREE, 472 U.S. 38 (1985)

  8. pete says:

    It’s not like the religious groups are famous for getting along with each other.

  9. “city has certain values”

    Yes. This values are commonly called “the law”. What he wanted to say is “I HAVE certain values”.

    Of course, the thing is obvious, the courts will slap him hard and Christians while whine about “Christian persecution” again.

Comments are closed.