“Prayer Station” in Warren City Hall

February 23, 2015

Since 2009, a church group has been using space in the public atrium of Warren’s city hall to operate a “prayer station.” Volunteers at the prayer station distribute religious literature, discuss their religious beliefs with passersby, and offer to pray with interested members of the public.

In order to provide visitors with an alternative point of view to the prayer station, Warren resident Douglas Marshall has asked for a small space in the atrium to set up what he calls a “reason station,” where he would distribute atheist literature and offer to discuss his philosophical beliefs with members of the public who wish to learn more about freethought.

Mr. Marshall’s request was rejected because, according to a letter signed by Warren’s mayor, Mr. Marshall’s belief system “is not a religion” and is not entitled to the constitutional protections guaranteed for religious belief.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit on Mr. Marshall’s behalf in August 2014, arguing that expressions of religious belief and non-belief must be treated equally under the First Amendment. In December 2014 Judge Marianne Battani denied the city’s motion to dismiss, ordered expedited discovery, and scheduled the case for trial. In February 2015, the city backed down and agreed to a permanent injunction allowing Mr. Marshall to operate a reason station on the same terms as the church was permitted to have its prayer station.

(Marshall v. City of Warren; ACLU of Michigan Attorneys Dan Korobkin and Michael J. Steinberg, and Legal Fellow Marc Allen; National ACLU Attorney Dan Mach; Cooperating Attorney Bill Wertheimer; Alex Luchenitser and Ayesha Khan of Americans United for Separation of Church and State; and Patrick Elliott and Rebecca Markert of Freedom From Religion Foundation.)