Written by Don Byrd

A complaint filed in federal court alleges that the Town of Edisto Beach, South Carolina acted unlawfully by barring its civic center from being used for religious worship purposes. The plaintiffs claim the move amounts to religious discrimination prohibited by the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. But city officials counter that the change was necessary to abide by the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. 

The State has more in its report:

“(W)hen you have worship services . . . you have signs that are put out at the Civic Center with the religious organization’s name on it and the Edisto Beach Civic Center’s name on it, there’s potential for flyers to be given out, and it gives the appearance that the Town is endorsing or supporting whichever particular religious organization that is,” town attorney Bert Duffie told the council, according to the council minutes.

Redeemer Fellowship and the Alliance Defending Freedom have a different perspective.

“Churches shouldn’t be treated less favorably than other groups that want to rent facilities,” Christiana Holcomb, an attorney representing Redeemer Fellowship said in a news release. “The town of Edisto Beach tells the community that it welcomes ‘civic, political, business, social groups and others’ to use its civic center, but the town’s recent policy change singles out one form of expression, worship, as inferior to other forms of speech, and that’s clearly unconstitutional.

Unfortunately, city officials often find themselves in this dilemma, caught between the demands of our two religion clauses. While the city’s concerns may be understandable, principles of equal access may counsel against a blanket ban on the religious use of government facilities, if other organizations are allowed to rent space for non-religious purposes when not in use.

Stay tuned.