Sidewalk Sunday School no longer banned in public park

East Baton Rouge park commission amends policy to allow religious activities
Friday, July 12, 2013

Attorney sound bite:  Joel Oster

BATON ROUGE, La. — An East Baton Rouge Sunday school program for at-risk youth can resume meeting in a public park as a result of a lawsuit filed on the program’s behalf by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys in 2012. The East Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission had thrown the program out due to a ban on religious activities. As part of a settlement of the lawsuit, the commission has now amended its policy to permit the school program.

“Faith-based groups have the same constitutionally protected freedom as any other community group to hold activities at a public park,” said Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster. “We commend the commission for recognizing that such groups shouldn’t be singled out for discrimination--especially a group like this that has provided such selfless service to at-risk youth and their parents for many years.”

Voices of Mercy Outreach Ministries obtained permission from the Recreation and Park Commission for the Parish of East Baton Rouge to use Cadillac Street Park for its Sidewalk Sunday School ministry outreach in 2005. Five years after granting permission to use the park, the commission notified the ministry that its outreach events violated a policy that prohibits all religious use of parks the commission operates, even though the commission allowed at least one other religious group to hold an event at the park.

Voices of Mercy has not been permitted to use the park since March 2010 and has been frustrated from ministering to youth living in low-income communities surrounding Cadillac Street Park. The ban greatly diminished the ministry’s outreach.

As a result of the settlement in O’Neal v. Recreation and Park Commission for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, the park commission has agreed to amend its Special Event Permit Policy and allow the group to meet at the park for four months without security and insurance and with the opportunity to reapply for a permit at the expiration of that time.

  • Pronunciation guide: Oster (OH’-stir)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 
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