FFRF claims victory in Connecticut censorship suit

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is pleased to announce that its lawsuit against Shelton, Conn., has been successfully settled after the city halted its discriminatory policy.

FFRF, with local member Jerome Bloom, filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Connecticut, in March 2016, after the city refused to allow them to place a nonreligious winter solstice display in Constitution Park. Yet, the city had allowed the American Legion to place a religious display featuring “heralding angels” there every December for at least four years. FFRF sued over impermissible viewpoint discrimination.

The city had even deemed FFRF’s proposed display “offensive to many.” FFRF’s display reads: “At this Season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

The joint settlement agreement indicates the city agrees not to allow private unattended displays in Constitution Park. The city agreed that anywhere it “allows private parties to erect unattended displays . . . it will allow plaintiffs to erect a display in that park, without regard to the content or viewpoint . . . so long as plaintiffs’ display complies with any neutral, written city policies regarding such displays.”

It also formally stipulates that Huntington Green, an open space in the city, is a “public forum for private unattended displays.”

Late last year, the city disallowed displays in Constitution Park, including the American Legion’s angel display. It also permitted FFRF to place its winter solstice display in Huntington Park, where the city also permitted a Christian nativity display. Unfortunately, FFRF’s sign was mutilated and destroyed.

The city also agreed to pay FFRF its filing fees and other legal costs of $936.50.

“We are pleased the city of Shelton will no longer discriminate against atheists and other nonbelievers in its public forums, and that it has closed the forum at Constitution Park,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. Barker indicated that FFRF and Bloom will continue to erect a winter solstice display in Huntington Green as long as religious displays are put up, and added: “We question that it’s truly a public forum if dissenting points of view are vandalized. We’ll be back in December, but will be asking for additional protection of our display.”

FFRF warmly thanks Jerome Bloom for making possible the legal victory.

FFRF was represented by attorney Laurence J. Cohen, of Springfield, Mass., with FFRF Attorneys Elizabeth Cavell and Ryan Jayne, who is FFRF’s Eric Stone Legal Fellow, serving as co-counsel.

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