The City of Warren, Michigan, opened the atrium in its city hall to public use. A local church took advantage of this policy to maintain a “prayer station” staffed by volunteers in the atrium. Douglas Marshall, a resident of Warren and an atheist, encountered the “prayer station” regularly while visiting city hall. Marshall attempted to express his own beliefs in a comparable manner by applying to set up a “reason station,” where he intended to distribute literature and engage in discussions with willing passersby. The mayor of Warren, however, emphatically rejected his application, claiming that atheism need not be accorded treatment equal to religious belief.
In July 2014, Americans United, alongside the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, filed suit against the city on Marshall’s behalf. We argued that the city’s actions violated the Free Speech and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment, and that the city must permit the “reason station” on an equal basis with the “prayer station.”
In August 2014 the city moved for summary judgment, and we opposed that motion a month later. The court denied the city’s motion in December 2014. In February 2015, we reached a settlement with the city requiring the city to allow the “reason station” to operate on terms no less favorable than those granted to the “prayer station.” The settlement was a total victory for Americans United and its allies.