The following is the text of the Guest Opinion published in the Longmont Times-Call on Thursday, July 29, 2010.
The United States legal system has a constitutional imperative that prohibits the United States government from establishing or endorsing a state religion. The shorthand for this is the phrase “separation of church and state.”
This fundamental principle and imperative applies to any government entity, federal to local. It has been litigated successfully over the centuries since the country’s founding.
However, there are segments of our society who deny the imperative. More than deny, they both ignore and manipulate it so as to effectively eliminate it.
Earlier this year, the City of Longmont issued a Use of Public Places permit to Heaven Fest to hold a festival of Christian music, or so it was presented. City departments devoted enormous numbers of hours to the planning process for this event, perhaps even weeks worth. These were financially uncompensated hours.
The Longmont Police Department’s standard contract for events states, “…there is an administrative fee for contracted events… These events typically require additional planning, coordination… The Extra Duty Employer [in this case, Heaven Fest] will pay a $50 per hour administrative fee for the Extra Duty Coordinator and $50 per hour for coordination from any support unit…”
These fees were waived for Heaven Fest when the City Clerk objected to the probable amount of the fees. This information is documented by an Open Records Request last March. The amount was projected in February to be an estimated $1,750 including time already spent and time anticipated. Given the nature of the Traffic Plan and the amount of interaction since March with Weld County and the State Patrol offices, this is undoubtedly a conservative estimate. The City Clerk reports that there were no Amendments to the original agreement with Heaven Fest subsequent to the completion of the Traffic Plan, thus the administrative and coordination fees were selectively waived for the Heaven Fest religious event.
The Heaven Fest website proclaims that the event is “at its very core…about prayer, worship, and being a catalyst for revival here in the Rocky Mountain region.”
In its Vendor Agreement, Worship and the Word, the producer of Heaven Fest, declares that the event “is a Jesus-focused, Jesus-worshipping, evangelical Christian event intent on conforming to Biblical principles and moral values.” It goes on to demand, “If WWM/Heaven Fest finds any of the items an Exhibitor is distributing to be inappropriate or incompatible to these values, Exhibitor will be asked to remove it. If an Exhibitor is found distributing an item that was not approved at the time of contract, Exhibitor may be shut down. WWM/Heaven Fest reserves the right to deny the distribution of any materials and order the cessation of any demonstrations on day of festival based on the discretion of WWM/Heaven Fest…”
The Agreement between the City and Heaven Fest abdicates the City’s vendor permitting responsibility to Heaven Fest. This abdication as well as the exception for usual and customary Longmont Police Department fees constitute an endorsement of a specific religion, a constitutional violation.
Will the City of Longmont face legal ramifications for this course of action. Highly unlikely. Longmont is a small city, off the radar for those organizations that are more likely to challenge it in court. However, the violation has occurred regardless of whether it is heard in a court of law.
But there is a court that should be concerned about the legitimacy of the city’s decision. And that is the court of public opinion.
This Guest Opinion will no doubt bring a barrage of complaints from fundamentalists who claim dominion over the ideas of Christianity and who, as described at the beginning of this article, deny the established validity of “the separation of church and state.” However, no amount of objections in response to this writing will change either the facts or the law.
Longmont is proceeding full speed ahead with its endorsement of this religious event and likely will have an official presence at Heaven Fest, further compounding the violation. It’s a shame that there are pockets within our city and throughout the country whose religious activities go beyond their private beliefs and seek to abolish a fundamental American tenet.
The ultimate objective and direction of this path will change this country from a representative democracy that respects the rights of all to a theocracy that demands allegiance to a specific religious dogma under penalty of law. It’s a path that will destroy the American system of government that has been treasured since the American idea was born and held as a beacon and example for the rest of the world to follow.