First, the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution is not being violated because allowing the lecture has only incidental benefit to the church.
The Supreme Court addresses the establishment clause in Lamb's Chapel vs. Center Moriche Union School District in a 1993 precedent-setting case. Here a school district allowed community and civic groups to use their public school facilities after hours, but denied a church use of the school for showing a religious film at a public meeting.
The court rejected the argument that it would be a violation of the establishment clause because the film was not shown during school hours, was not sponsored by the school, was open to the public, and there was no realistic danger that the community would think that the school district was endorsing religion, and any benefit to religion would have been incidental.
The same conclusion would apply when the city of Menlo Park permits religious groups to use its chambers for a lecture that would not be given during business hours, not be sponsored by the City Council, would be open to the public and there would not be a realistic danger the community would think that the City Council was endorsing the religious views expressed. Therefore, any benefit to the church would be incidental and not a violation of the establishment clause.
The second reason the city made the right decision by allowing the lecture is it would be a violation of the free speech clause of the same First Amendment. This clause allows different types of speech in different venues — a public forum like streets, sidewalks and parks, a limited quasi public forum, like schools and government buildings that are thrown open to various community, civic or religious organizations and private non-public forums, like privately owned auditoriums. The general rules for public forums and such quasi public forums dictate that the content of the speech must be neutral, and not restrictive to a particular viewpoint, including a religious viewpoint.
Therefore, the Supreme Court in Lamb's Chapel addressed the free speech clause and decided that if a school (a government building) is thrown open to public community or civic organizations it cannot exclude religious organizations from the same buildings, because it would be discriminating against a religious viewpoint.
The Menlo Park City Council has the right to restrict its chambers as a quasi-public forum. But if it allows any groups to use their chambers, either civic or community, it must allow religious groups and their viewpoints. For these reasons I encourage the City Council to continue its present policy of allowing the chambers to be open to all organizations.
Greg Conlon lives in Atherton and is a member of the Church of Christ, Scientist in Menlo Park. He is also an attorney and practices exclusively in Washington, D.C.