July 25, 2014
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The ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Warren, Michigan, after its mayor refused to let an atheist run a "reason station" out of the City Hall atrium. A religious group has operated from City Hall since 2009, handing out religious pamphlets, praying and talking to passersby about religion. In response to the lawsuit, Mayor Jim Fouts hit on a proven tactic for drawing public sympathy to your cause: tasteless comparisons to Nazism.
On Wednesday, Fouts told the AP that the city has the right to deny City Hall space to groups that are offensive to the community, such as Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.
"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," Fouts told the AP. "I cannot accept or will not allow a group that is disparaging of another group to have a station here."
The ACLU, which submitted the lawsuit alongside the Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Freedom from Religion Foundation, is not on board with the Mayor's legal reasoning.
"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," said Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan deputy legal director. "For instance, Warren officials would not be permitted to grant access to activists supportive of the mayor and reject the applications of activists who are critical of the mayor. The same logic extends to this matter: the city cannot allow speech supportive of religion and reject speech supportive of atheism."
According to the ACLU, the lawsuit doesn't seek to ban the religious group from City Hall, but is trying to ensure equal treatment for atheist and agnostic groups.