ACLU Issues Statement on City’s Attempt to Bar Church From Burnside Park
Posted: May, 19, 2016
Calling the City’s actions “blatantly unconstitutional,” Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island, issued the following statement today in response to a Providence Journal article describing attempts by some Providence city officials to bar a church from holding weekly services in Burnside Park.
“According to news reports, members of Church Beyond the Walls have been told by Wendy Nilsson, the Superintendent of the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation, that the church can no longer congregate on Saturdays in Burnside Park to hold services. Nilsson has allegedly cited a 98-year old ordinance that bars anybody from ‘address[ing] any political or religious meeting in any public park.’ This ordinance is blatantly unconstitutional, and has been for decades. As the U.S. Supreme Court noted over 75 years ago: ‘Wherever the title of streets and parks may rest, they have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions.’
“It is embarrassing that the city founded by Roger Williams would claim the right to kick him out of a municipal park for preaching religious freedom. We call upon city officials to immediately acknowledge the unconstitutionality of this ordinance and to recognize the fundamental First Amendment rights of the Church and others to meet in the park for political and religious purposes.”