Religious Lawsuit “Victory” Rings Hollow In Idaho Springs

An aggressive Arizona-based Christian legal firm has declared victory over the tiny city of Idaho Springs over a dispute involving group praying at city hall. 

But, using a term that representatives from the Alliance Defense Fund like to apply, the Truth is a bit different than their claims.

One thing’s certain: The mayor and city clerk and many of the city’s 1,893 residents are relieved they don’t have to spend any more time and money fighting what the mayor describes as an an “in-your-face” lawsuit challenging Idaho Springs for not allowing religious groups to organize in prayer inside City Hall. Their intent, they say, was never to stifle free speech or religious liberty. And, they note, allowing the group to use a public room in another city-owned building hardly constitutes a great victory. But hey, if that’s what the Alliance Defense Fund wants to think…

  It all started last May 4. It wasn’t snowing or raining in this old mining town 30 miles west of Denver, but the day was blustery. As they had done in the past, a group of about 20 folks showed up to the park next to city hall to celebrate the National Day of Prayer. City Clerk Reba Bechtel says that they were not dressed for the weather, and soon moved their meeting inside.

Bechtel says she told the group that they could not meet in the city council chambers. An existing policy specified that the room was to be used for government purposes, including council and planning committee meetings. Other nonprofit groups, including Republican and Democratic party meetings, also occasionally met there. But the policy stipulated that religious groups could not use the space, nor could the room be used for social events or for for-profit ventures, like Tupperware or Mary Kay parties.

Bechtel says the group refused to leave, and spent the next hour-and-a-half conducting their ceremony inside city hall.

“They sang and prayed and the kinds of things you’d expect,” she said. “I wouldn’t say it was disruptive, but you couldn’t come into city hall and not hear what was going on.”

On advice of its lawyers, city leaders subsequently changed its meeting room policy to be more in concert with recent court rulings, says Idaho Springs mayor Dennis Lunbery. In effect, from then on, city hall was only to be used for government business –

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Cara Degette

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