The City of Warren, Mich., allows a Christian group to run a prayer station, hand out religious content and pray with people in the city hall atrium, but will not allow atheist Douglas Marshall to set up a "reason station" in the same area.
The American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation have filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Marshall against the city.
The lawsuit claims the city has "favored and are favoring religion over nonreligion, and religious belief over disbelief, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."
Marshall, a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, says his "reason station" would promote the use of reason and logic, as well as separation of church and state, which the mayor does not want.
"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," Warren Mayor Jim Fouts told the Associated Press. "I cannot accept or will not allow a group that is disparaging of another group to have a station here."
"[Christians] don't walk up to people," Mayor Fouts added. "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."
Mayor Fouts noted that the city allows Islamic Ramadan displays.
"I'm a Christian. but I believe in freedom of religion for all groups," Mayor Fouts stated.
“It seems to be that the mayor or the city doesn’t understand or doesn’t agree with us about what the First Amendment requires,” Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan deputy legal director, told DetroitNews.com. “It not only protects all religious people but it also does not allow the government to... show favoritism toward religion over nonreligion.”
Mayor Fouts countered, “Apparently, the ACLU just wants to make a point, but my point to them is, I see no need to allow a negative group of people to come and disparage another group."
According to the Detroit Free Press, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the city in 2013 when it refused to add a sign by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to its Christmas display.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sign would have stated: “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, No heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but Myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
CORRECTION: On July 25, Mayor Fouts told The Huffington Post, "I do not consider atheists to be Nazis or anything of that nature. I believe they're loyal Americans just like anybody else."
Mayor Fouts added that he believes the atheist "reason station" would "promote conflict, consternation and controversy."
Mayor Fouts' office told Opposing Views on Aug. 5, "Mayor Fouts did not compare atheists to Nazi's and he recognizes the rights of everyone."
Sources: Detroit Free Press, DetroitNews.com, Associated Press, The Huffington Post (Image Credit: Cory Doctorow)