When injustice doesn’t impact us directly, it can be easy to say “what’s the harm? It’s not a big deal.”
It’s a much different experience when you’re the one left out, facing discrimination, or pushed out of public spaces.
When government officials insist on promoting a particular faith, citizens who don't share those religious beliefs suffer. All too often that pain is minimized, even ignored. “It’s not a big deal, right?”
It’s a big deal.
Every citizen should feel welcome and represented at their city hall. When you walk into city hall to pay taxes or meet with your city council member, it’s important to feel like your government won’t favor another person based on religion, race, or anything else.
That’s why Warren’s city hall is a more welcoming place for its residents, after a federal judge agreed with us and ended the city’s policy of allowing only a “prayer station” operated by a church group in the public space.
For six years, the city permitted 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.
In just the same way, a Warren resident asked to reserve the same space to have philosophical discussions with passersby who express an interest in a secular belief system rather than a religious one.
Warren officials didn’t like that idea. They didn’t like the man’s point of view. They didn’t agree.
City officials are now required to provide access to the building for a “reason station” to be run by a resident with non-religious beliefs. No official, not even the mayor, can pick and choose which belief systems residents are permitted to be heard.
But one of the key elements that make America great is that government officials can’t silence or exclude other points of view just because they don’t like them personally.
That’s always been the goal of the ACLU’s work on freedom of religion and belief: to guarantee that everyone is free to follow and practice their faith – or no faith at all – without governmental influence or interference.
By Maggie McGuire, Digital Media Strategist