This post has been updated.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and two other groups on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the mayor of Warren, Mich., who banned an atheist group from setting up a station alongside one run by a prayer group in the city hall atrium.
Mayor Jim Fouts said that the group’s “reason station” would be opposed to prayer and compared atheists to Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan.
“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,” Fouts told the Associated Press on Wednesday. “I cannot accept or will not allow a group that is disparaging of another group to have a station here.”
Fouts has let a prayer group run a station where they hand out fliers and offer prayers to passersby since 2009. Yet the mayor rejected Douglas Marshall’s request to run a “reason station” where he would offer to have philosophical discussions with people who walk by in the city hall atrium.
“They don’t walk up to people,” Fouts told the AP, explaining how the prayer group operates its city hall station. “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.”
Fouts wrote to Marshall that his station would not be permitted because his group is “an anti-religion group intending to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms or at least discourage the practice of religion,” according to an ACLU statement.
The ACLU, along with Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, are suing Fouts for not allowing all groups to set up stations in city hall.
“Once the government opens public space for use by private groups, it cannot pick and choose who can use the space based on the content of their message or whether public officials agree with that message,” Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan deputy legal director, said in a statement.
Marshall wants the city of Warren to allow him to operate his station alongside those operated by religious groups.
Correction: The original version of this post stated that Mayor Fouts is a member of the Republican party. He has run as a Republican in the past, but is currently an independent. He also disputes that he compared atheists to Nazis and members of the KKK.
Image via WXYZ-TV Detroit
[H/t Huffington Post]