Lawsuit prompts Ga. county to drop discrimination against churchCounty allows church to meet at recreation center as other groups can
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
“Government officials should not use policy restrictions to target churches and push them out of public places where similar groups can meet,” said Senior Counsel Joel Oster. “DeKalb County has done the right thing in allowing the church to continue renting space. We hope other local governments around the country will follow DeKalb’s example in respecting the constitutionally protected freedom of faith-based groups to have equal access to public buildings.”
In May, the county informed the pastor of Transformation Church of God in Christ that a policy had been changed to prohibit churches from renting a meeting room in the Redan Recreation Center in Lithonia. Although the pastor repeatedly requested a copy of the new policy, none was ever given to him. On Sept. 30, the county informed the pastor that it had denied his October rental application and would no longer rent space to the church.
The Redan Recreation Center is public property that the county has designated for public use for a broad range of private expression. The center rents to non-religious groups for a variety of purposes such as family reunions, basketball tournaments, baby showers, Girl Scouts events, and private parties. It had decided to exclude churches but changed course after Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed Powell v. DeKalb County in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division.
Transformation Church uses the center for its meetings, which include reading the Bible, singing religious songs, praying, and sharing biblical insight.
“Counties cannot engage in viewpoint discrimination. This is exactly why federal law protects churches from arbitrary and subjective policy decisions,” Oster explained. “Under the county’s new rules, both religious and non-religious groups will be able to rent space for their meetings.”
- Photo: Redan Recreation Center meeting room
- Pronunciation guide: Oster (OH’-stir)