A federal judge ruled that an atheist can set up a "reason station" in a Michigan city hall alongside a church's prayer station, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Resident Douglas Marshall sued after the city of Warren denied his request last year to set up the station in the city hall's atrium. On Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael J. Hluchaniuk declared that the city must allow it and also pay the ACLU $100,000 for court costs and attorney's fees.
Mayor James Fouts said he was concerned Marshall wanted to place an "antagonistic, anti-religion" sign near the prayer station and rejected the atheist's request. "I was afraid this would promote conflict in city hall," Fouts told the Free Press.
"The First Amendment guarantees us all the right to speak freely about our beliefs — or lack thereof," Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Michigan, wrote in response to the judge's ruling. "Mr. Marshall should be lauded for resisting the mayor's attempt to silence him by favoring religious groups over non-religious groups."
The Free Press reported that Fouts' letter to Marshall rejecting the reason noted: "To my way of thinking, your group 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." The last sentence was underlined, the paper noted.
Marshall's group is the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which unsuccessfully contested a nativity scene on Warren city property.
Fouts' letter said he believes the FFRF intended to "disrupt those who participate in the prayer station, which would also be a violation of the freedom of religion amendment. For these reasons, I cannot approve of your request."
More from the Free Press:
According to the ACLU, for the last six years, the city of Warren has allowed volunteers at the prayer station to distribute religious pamphlets, offer to pray with passersby and discuss their religious beliefs with those who approach the station. Marshall wanted the same kind of table, where he could offer philosophical discussions with passersby who express an interest in a secular belief system.
In the end Fouts seemed to look at the situation from a positive perspective. "The bottom line is we have a prayer station. We have a nativity scene. And I feel we have been victorious," Fouts told the Free Press. "That was very important to me."
Here's a short interview clip in front of the prayer station posted to YouTube last year:
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