Racial Equality

Christian groups were allowed to hang banners in Fort Worth – but these atheists have been told they can’t

  Rhys Long

Metroplex Atheists of Texas is suing the city of Fort Worth after the city rejected the group’s signs for an upcoming event examining Christian Nationalism.

In downtown Fort Worth, banners line the sidewalks. Registered non-profits can put up these banners to advertise upcoming events, so long as they follow the city’s guidelines and pay required fees. Banners have been hung for all manner of events and organizations, including for a Kenneth Copeland Ministries event, Texas Christian University advertisements and even for a previous Metroplex Atheists event calling to change the national motto from “In God We Trust” to “E Pluribus Unum.”

Metroplex Atheists’ banners about the motto conference – which were bright yellow and contained the words “IN NO GOD WE TRUST” – sparked a public backlash. They were also criticized by the mayor and vandalized. But the city allowed the group to put them up because its forum was open.

New banners are denied

But now Metroplex Atheists’ request for banners for its Christian Nationalism event Aug. 26 has been refused by the city, even though this event is no different from the group’s previous gatherings. Metroplex Atheists were told that its banners were no longer in compliance with the city’s banner policy, which officials had apparently tweaked – although the city refused to disclose what changes had been made to the policy. City officials also claimed that the event lacked sufficient magnitude to warrant banners, but magnitude is never mentioned in the banner policy, and there are no guidelines for what warrants a sufficiently important event.

The city refuses to provide any information regarding the group’s banner request or its policy changes and is deferring the issue until the council meets in a closed-door session. This meeting would not allow sufficient time for the Metroplex Atheists to advertise its event, so the group is seeking injunctive relief to allow their banners to be displayed until the matter can be resolved.

Equal access for all

Metroplex Atheists should have the same rights as religious groups, like Kenneth Copeland Ministries, to hang banners advertising its events – even if the banners offend some people. Given that the Metroplex Atheists’ banner request for their new event follows all the publicly available guidelines governing banners in Fort Worth, it seems clear that the city is discriminating against the group. Whether this discrimination springs from the backlash to the group’s previous event or opposition to its upcoming one is unknown, but it doesn’t matter – it’s still wrong.

This incident is a good reminder of the need for equal treatment under the law. Freedom cannot just be for religious groups or religious messages – it extends to everyone equally. Freedom does not mean, as Christian Nationalists assert, special privilege for Christians. Hopefully, the judge in this case makes the right decision to protect free speech and religious freedom in Fort Worth.

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