We were contacted this past December by a Chelsea, MI Council Member who asked us to assist in drafting an ordinance to regulate private use of public space. He contacted us because Chelsea would not allow a live nativity scene on city-leased property during a December festival. Councilman Anderson wanted an ordinance in place to protect such activities. As such, he contacted ACLJ attorneys who were able to provide him with information regarding the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act.
Specifically, we discussed Lamb’s Chapel, argued by ACLJ Chief Counsel, Jay Sekulow, a case in which a unanimous Supreme Court held that the First Amendment requires religious groups to be treated equally with other groups that use public facilities. The Court upheld two principles. First, denying religious organizations equal access to, and use of, public facilities for speech activities violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Second, it is not a violation of the Establishment Clause (what some people mistakenly call “separation of church and state”) for a school to treat religious organizations equally with other organizations. These principles apply to all public facilities, not just school facilities, which have been opened for use by community organizations.
Based on such case law, ACLJ attorneys were able to assist the Council Member in drafting an ordinance that would regulate private use of public space. The outcome was favorable, and we just received word that the drafted ordinance passed unanimously.
We are pleased with this outcome and will continue working to protect the rights of religious organizations to ensure that they are treated equally with other organizations when public space has been opened for use by community organizations.