A federal lawsuit was filed Monday, Aug. 27, on behalf of a small church against the town of Edisto Beach, South Carolina, after the town council changed its civic center rules to ban worship services.
Redeemer Fellowship of Edisto Island had rented the Edisto Beach Civic Center for Sunday worship on two occasions, but after the church proposed another rental agreement, the town council voted to reject the church’s application and amended the facility use guidelines to ban all rentals for “religious worship services.”
“Churches shouldn’t be treated less favorably than other groups that want to rent facilities,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb.
“The town of Edisto Beach tells the community that it welcomes ‘civic, political, business, social groups and others’ to use its civic center, but the town’s recent policy change singles out one form of expression, worship, as inferior to other forms of speech, and that’s clearly unconstitutional,” continued Holcomb. “Redeemer Fellowship and its members have invested in the Edisto community for years, and they deserve fair treatment and equal access to the town’s public civic center.”
The lawsuit notes that another religious organization, an Episcopal church, has been renting a multi-purpose room for approximately five years, and that the church “uses the Civic Center room for church office space, Vestry meetings, Bible studies, and theological training.” In addition, other various members of the community have rented space for a wide variety of events including wedding, birthday, and baptism celebrations.
The lawsuit argues that the town’s recent amended guidelines are inconsistent and amount to viewpoint discrimination—allowing some groups “to engage in singing, teaching, social interaction, and similar expressive activities” at the center while denying “access to those groups that engage in those same activities from a religious viewpoint.”
“The government can’t discriminate against churches because of their beliefs,” said Erik Stanley, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. “Redeemer Fellowship is being told they are unwelcome — in the same civic center where secular groups may meet and where another church already rents a room for Bible studies, vestry meetings, and theological training. The town is constitutionally required to treat religious organizations equally and fix its policy barring Redeemer Fellowship from worship.”
ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Redeemer Fellowship of Edisto Island v. Town of Edisto Beach, in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.