Mayor Jim Fouts and the City of Warren, Michigan won a battle in the U.S. Sixth District Court in a fight against the Freedom from Religion Foundation which insisted that the city’s failure to allow an anti-Christian sign in the city’s Christmas display constituted discrimination and was a violation of their free speech rights.
As reported by Defend Christmas back in 2011 the FFRF wanted to post a sign that read “At this season of the Winter Solstice, let reason prevail. 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.”, similar to other signs the FFRF has posted in communities all across America. Mayor Fouts refused their request and the FFRF sued in court claiming discrimination and censorship.
The court agree with Fouts and the City of Warren concluding the U.S. Constitution â€œdoes not convert these displays into a seasonal public forum, requiring governments to add all comers to the mix and creating a poison pill for even the most secular displays in the process.â€ The court also upheld the constitutionality of Warrenâ€™s annual Christmas display, noting it features both secular and religious symbols alike.
â€œSuch holiday displays are quintessentially government speech,â€ the panel wrote in a 3-0 vote, also stressing that itâ€™s not illegal if an opposing view is kept out of a holiday display.
â€œIf strict neutrality were the order of the day â€¦ the United States Postal Service would need to add all kinds of stamps, religious and nonreligious alike, to its December collection. Veteransâ€™ Day would lead to pacifism Day, the Fourth of July to Non-patriots Day, and so on.â€
The court case against the FFRF is an important victory for municipalities threatened by lawsuits by the FFRF. Often, intimidated by the expense and threat of lawsuits, cities cave to the requests of the FFRF and the resulting publicity each holiday season embarrasses cities as they inevitably become the focus of national media attention, potentially affecting tourism, commerce and public relations efforts. Most localities just want to honor time-tested traditions without the fuss of court fights.
For Mayor Fouts, the issue goes way beyond Christmas saying the decision is a â€œvictory for freedom of religion.â€ Fouts was plain spoken when the city received the letter of threats from the FFRF, calling their sign â€œhighly offenseâ€ and â€œmean spiritedâ€. He told the group in a letter, disclosed in court documents, that he wouldnâ€™t allow any displays to disparage any religion, â€œso I will not allow anyone or any organization to attack religion in general.â€