City Says Prayer Group Can't Use Community Center, Lawsuit Filed - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

8/20/02 - Van

City Says Prayer Group Can't Use Community Center, Lawsuit Filed

It's something no one in van says they want. The suit on behalf of residents Charles and Michelle Moore alleges they have a right to lease the public community center for their Christian prayer group.

Their counsel Stuart Roth says it's discrimination, just because the message is of faith.

"[It's] made available for a wide range of First Amendment activities but somehow when the same people want to use these facilities for religious purposes, the doors are shut."

The suit also says that policy is overbroad, and there were no set standards as to when an activity ceases to be a private gathering and becomes religious.

"So as far as writing it on a piece of paper, if it's required by the law why do you do that?" says Van mayor E.L. Rauston.  He adds the advice of the city attorney is that the Texas Constitution prohibits the use of that property for any mainly religious purpose. He says that no one is deliberately trying to infringe on rights.

"[We're] sworn to uphold the constitution and the laws and try to to the best of our ability," says Raulston.

Roth contends: "We're assuming they're [city council] good people, they just misunderstand their obligations under the United States Constitution."

It's a legal standoff the courts will decide.  The city must file a response to the suit by Sept. 9.

The Mayor says his council is full of believers, though they must follow the law as advised by their attorney.

The American Center for Law and Justice is pursuing the lawsuit for the Moores.  They were founded more than a decade ago by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson.

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