On Wednesday July 28, 2010, the City of Longmont received a letter from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. The letter indicates that a complaint has been registered with Americans United because the city “has provided a fee waiver, to ‘Worship and the Word Movement, Inc.’ for the administrative and operational costs that will be incurred by the Longmont Police Department for the group’s event ‘Heaven Fest 2010’…”
Americans United informs the City “that it is unconstitutional for the City to provide a benefit, such as a fee waiver to a religious organization when the City does not provide the same benefit to other organizations.”
An Open Records Request earlier in the year revealed that the Longmont Police Department (LPD) has a standard contract that requires special events to reimburse the LPD $50 per hour for administrative and coordination fees.
Emails between the LPD and Valeria Skitt, Longmont City Clerk, reveal that the Police Department abandoned the charges when Skitt emailed Commander Jeffrey Satur saying , “These numbers seem like a bit much given that they aren’t requesting officer assistance, we are requiring it.” The email went on to say, “This will come as a really big surprise to them at this late stage of the game.”
Commander Satur explained in a subsequent email “why we charge for our administrative costs.” He said, “These meetings are time consuming and take away from our primary duties. As such, at a time when resources were scarce, we felt it important for the event coordinators, not the tax payers, to pay for this loss.”
As of February 26, 2010, Commander Satur indicated to Ms. Skitt that the Longmont Police Department had devoted “at least 10 hours of planning.” He said that he did not “know how many planning meeting we have left, but I’m thinking 20-25 hours.” The cost for the hours devoted and the expressed estimate amounted to $1,750.00.
The License Agreement between the city and Heaven Fest was signed on March 9, 2010, and did not included charges for administrative costs. Subsequent to the execution of the Agreement, the Longmont Police Department spent considerable time between March and June developing the Traffic Plan for the event with the Weld County Sheriff’s Department and the State Patrol.
An email from the City Clerk indicated that no amendments to the original License Agreement were executed.
The letter from Americans United cites several cases in support of the complaint.
“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ‘mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”
Americans United asks that the City “take steps to ensure that this fee is either applied equally to all events, religious and non-religious alike, or that it is not applied to any event.” If the first option is selected, the city would need to “rescind the waiver and collect all applicable fees for ‘Heaven Fest 2010.’”
Mayor Bryan Baum and Mayor ProTem Gabe Santos are in Japan until August 3rd. At its Regular Session council meeting on Tuesday, July 27th, Council Member Sean McCoy was chosen to act on behalf of the City in the absence of Baum and Santos.
When asked about the letter, Acting Mayor McCoy responded, “The Constitution is the nation’s fundamental document. All elected officials have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution. The city takes this matter seriously and will work to resolve any issue that may exist.”
Americans United expects the City of Longmont to respond to its letter within thirty days.
According to its website, Americans United “is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to preserving the constitutional principle of church-state separation as the only way to ensure religious freedom for all Americans.”
The author of this article is the complainant in this matter.