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Guest opinion: Concern over church use of council chambers

Original post made on Jan 22, 2008

The following letter was addressed to the members of the Menlo Park City Council:

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 23, 2008, 12:00 AM

Comments (74)

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Posted by dude
a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2008 at 12:55 pm

freedom OF religion not freedom FROM religion...{portion removed by Almanac staff].

The anti-God crowd is out of control


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Posted by Deja vu
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 22, 2008 at 1:42 pm

Maybe we sould require all religious believers to wear arm bands so that we can easily identify them and bar them from contaminating any public areas with their presence.


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Posted by 1st amendment or bust
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 22, 2008 at 2:35 pm

The letter doesn't say anything about freedom from (or of) religion. It's about separation of church and state. Anyone need a refresher course in Con Law?

I think it's time for the city to set policy here. The city regularly lets community groups use its facilities, and that is a huge benefit, as few of us have access to meeting rooms that can accommodate a number of people. Our neighborhood association has used rooms at the rec center, and the local AYSO uses the council chambers for coaches' meetings. I doubt anyone has problems with any of these kinds of uses.

Maybe it's a step down the slippery slope, but I don't think it would ruffle too many feathers if a religious organization asked to use a meeting room for a business meeting for its own members. The problem with this particular event is that it is being advertised to the community as a prayer meeting that uses public facilities, and that feels perilously close to a violation of the separation of church and state clause.

Why not actually read the letter and try to understand what it says before casting aspersions. You anons might have more credibility if you tried to understand what you were attacking before you laid fingers to keyboard.


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Posted by InDefenseOfCivilRights
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 22, 2008 at 6:55 pm

The idea of "separation of church and state" was not intended to ban religious expression or speech on public or government property. If this had ever been the case, then House and Senate sessions would not have begun with a prayer led by a church minister, for example. Please read your history.
The ACLU has tried to redefine "separation of church and state" to fit their dubious agenda.(They were after all, founded by communists to promote their own views.) The ACLU is systematically going after our religious free speech.
I read the letter very carefully because I could not believe the ignorance that I saw there. It is shameful.


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Posted by 1st or bust
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 22, 2008 at 8:29 pm

Pretty twisted logic there, and if the Congressional prayers are the best example you can provide, then the suggestion of a Con Law course still holds (probably not a refresher after all, since it's likely that you have never studied it). Read some of the relevant case law-- Lemon v. Kurtzman, Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock, or Allegheny County v ACLU --for starters.

Now, reasonable people can debate whether or not this use violates the First Amendment, but to flat out say "these writers hate all religions" (uh, where is that in the letter?) or to play the Communist card (channeling Joseph McCarthy these days?) isn't very productive.


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Posted by Outraged
a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2008 at 10:48 pm

What is unproductive here, is the attempt to ban this speaker because of his religious views.
No one is being forced to attend this lecture. It violates no ones rights. The idea that someone is harmed by simply hearing something of a spiritual nature is insane.
I am well aware of the numerous suits that have sought to "protect" us from religious speech. The case law amply proves that "the law is an ass".
The law is actually being used to violate our rights of free speech and freedom of religion! This abuse of our law and our basic rights must stop.
The consequences will be great indeed if we don't end this veiled bigotry.


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Posted by wrestling with pigs
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 22, 2008 at 11:03 pm

>What is unproductive here, is the attempt to ban this speaker because of his religious views.

- Not at all. No one is trying to ban him for anything. If the speaker rented out an auditorium of a privately owned building, no one would care. It's not about his religious views.

>No one is being forced to attend this lecture. It violates no ones rights. The idea that someone is harmed by simply hearing something of a spiritual nature is insane.

Can we stay on topic? The issue isn't about being forced or about violating rights. It's not about abusing puppy dogs or selling alcohol to minors or any one of a number of really bad things, okay? It's about separation of church and state.

(Common tactic of amateurs: when you know you can't win your argument, switch to an argument you think you can win.)

>I am well aware of the numerous suits that have sought to "protect" us from religious speech. The case law amply proves that "the law is an ass".

- Many countries have a state religion. No one else has our Bill of Rights. If you don't like the laws here, you are free to go elsewhere.

>The law is actually being used to violate our rights of free speech and freedom of religion! This abuse of our law and our basic rights must stop.

- You have every right to speak out and to practice your religion. You should not, however, expect your speech to be subsidized by public funding. I shouldn't be expected to pay so you can pray. And vice versa, of course.

>The consequences will be great indeed if we don't end this veiled bigotry.

- Pretty funny. Do you know what "bigotry" means?


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Posted by dude
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2008 at 7:50 am

the "separation of church and state" isn't in the constitution anyway...no "establishment of religion" is. [portion removed by Almanac staff]

the city council isn't establishing a religion..they would just be letting someone speak.

next month you can speak about your Godless miserable life if you want.

Gee, maybe the founding fathers intent was to NOT have the law say "you will all worship the Spaghetti God and pay him 10% or else we will put you in jail". hmmmm. I don't think the city council is doing that in this case.


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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 23, 2008 at 10:00 am

"If the law supposes that," said Mr. Bumble,… "the law is a ass—a idiot. If that's the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience." Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist 1837-1839

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

"There is no such source and cause of strife, quarrel, fights, malignant opposition, persecution, and war, and all evil in the state, as religion. Let it once enter our civil affairs, our government would soon be destroyed. Let it once enter our common schools, they would be destroyed." Supreme Court of Wisconsin, Weiss v. District Board, 1890-MAR-18.

"A union of government and religion tends to destroy government and degrade religion." Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, Engel v. Vitale, (1962)

"The establishment clause [of the U.S. Constitution] prohibits government from appearing to take a position on questions of religious belief or from 'making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person's standing in the political community'." State Judge R. Marley Dennis Jr. of South Carolina, quoting in part the U.S. Supreme Court's 1984 ruling in Lynch v. Donnelly.

The House of Representatives passed an "Ten Commandments Defense Act Amendment" to a juvenile crime bill in 1999-JUN. If it had been signed into law, this act would have allowed the display of the Ten commandments in any government facility, including public schools -- at least it would until it was declared unconstitutional by the courts. The law appears to fail all three criteria which have been proposed to test the constitutionality of laws with a religious content. Those representatives who voted in favor of the amendment violated their oath of office, which included a promise to uphold the U.S. Constitution.


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Posted by Unofficial Editor
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2008 at 10:32 am

For those without a dictionary, bigotry = intolerance.
Mr. Engle, correction: AN ass; AN idiot.


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Posted by Unofficial Editor
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2008 at 10:39 am

Mr. Engle, I didn't see the quotations, my apologies.


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Posted by dude
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2008 at 12:09 pm

Just because its the Supreme Court doesn't mean its not full of idiots.


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Posted by Gern Blanston
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 23, 2008 at 2:10 pm

"dude" wrote, among other inanities:

"next month you can speak about your Godless miserable life if you want."

If this is a sample of current Christian charity then God help the faith. Your intolerance is matched only by your ignorance of constitutional law, dude. Fates help me if, at some point in the future, the constitution no longer protects my freedom *from* religion, from you and your kind. Scary!

Gern Blanston


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Posted by Bob
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2008 at 2:10 pm

The law is surely as powerful a force for injustice as it is for justice.
The "law is an ass" because it can get lost in little details or wander off track and go far afield of its original intent, to the detriment of true justice. Sometimes even the judges in our highest courts let their personal preferences affect their judgements.
Think about the Dred v. Scott decision in 1857, when the Supreme Court ruled that a black man was 3/5 of a person. What if we still used this abominable ruling as a precedent?
In the case of the legal interpretations of the separation of church and state, a great deal of destruction has been done to our rights. Mr. Engle brought up Weiss v. District Board, and this quote: "There is no such source and cause of strife...and all evil in the state as religion..." etc.
This opinion was certainly not held by the founders of our country, nor set down in any of their documents. In fact, it is contrary to their writings. They believed that democracy could only survive if individual citizens practiced the dicipline of moral virtue based on religious teachings. They simply wanted no interference from the state on religious freedoms. How far the law has strayed from those ideals.
The law itself is based on the Ten Commandments, those same commandments that the law has banned from display in our courthouses and other public places. We are on a slippery slope, building a house of cards based on bad legal precedent.
Lawyers and judges are fallible. They are human and not Gods, even if some might wish they were.


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Posted by Anna
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 23, 2008 at 2:32 pm

Bob, You make some good points, particularly about the fallibility of lawyers and judges -- and the Supreme Court (consider the 2000 appointment of an unelected president). But please cite evidence that the country's founders "believed that democracy could only survive if individual citizens practiced the dicipline of moral virtue based on religious teachings" (in particular, that they believed that "religious teachings" were necessary underpinnings to moral virtue), and that "The law itself is based on the Ten Commandments."


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Posted by Suzanne
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 23, 2008 at 4:04 pm

I have to say this whole thing is ridiculous. Other churches around our community use city property to advertise for their events all year round and they NEVER get called out for it in any way, but the one time a religious group who is not as well known, wants to do the same everyone gets scared and makes a fuss. For example, the space for banners that hang over Santa Cruz Ave. are owned by the city. If anyone wants to advertise an event in that way, they have to go to the city and get it approved and so forth. I can't even remember the countless times the other churches in the area have advertised their events using the cities banner. Is that not another "threat" to the people that are worried about separation of church and state? As I said, this is ridiculous. This church that is holding their lecture in the City Council Chambers obviously had to pay to use the space like everyone else would. They didn't get special treatment, and anyone would know that just because an event is held in the City Council Chambers doesn't mean the city is endorsing it. Because this bias is only now being brought out, I think it is not so much about a religious event happening in the Council Chambers, I think it is about people's fear of the unknown. If the huge Presbyterian Church down the street from Pete's Coffee wanted to hold an event there no one would say a thing.


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Posted by Apples, meet oranges
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 23, 2008 at 5:55 pm

I don't think the city would allow a church, even the almightly Menlo Pres, to hoist a banner reading "Come Pray with Us" over Santa Cruz. If they did, I bet they'd get some flak. No one has problems with a church advertising a secular event such as a play or a rummage sale. We're not splitting hairs here: this is a big distinction.

I know of several local religious groups that are too small to own or even to rent their own building. They rent space from local churches, who are usually glad for the extra income. That is totally appropriate. Renting our council chambers for a prayer service is not.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 24, 2008 at 3:49 am

The speaker Mr. Ballard is not giving a prayer service, he is giving a lecture in which prayer will be discussed. This is a big distinction, to use your own words, Mr.or Ms. "Apples meet oranges".
Mr. Ballard is not establishing a state religion. Nor is the city of Menlo Park establishing a state (or even a city) religion by allowing him to use a public room for a lecture where attendance is voluntary. He is therefore not violating the "separation of church and state" clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
This Amendment declares that NO law can be made that prohibits the free exercise of religion. And it dose NOT say; unless that free exercise is on public property! It also states that NO law can be made abridging free speech. It dose NOT say; unless that speech is religious!
Somewhere along the line the law has gone astray. It has been so manipulated, that people have come to believe that the establishment clause provides freedom from religion instead of its real purpose of providing freedom of religion.
If Mr. Ballard is barred from using city facilities for his lecture because it contains some religious topic, then HIS rights are being violated. And so are ours


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Posted by dude
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2008 at 6:18 am

The only thing "The Dude" is intolerant of, Glen, is people pushing their insanity on others which includes the nobody can talk about anything remotely religious (except maybe Islam..but thats another rant). My point was that if you want to have a non-religious meeting the following month ya can and if someone wants to have a religious meeting this month, they can...who care if it is a public building/venue whatever. get over it. I'll bet no one liked my "Speghetti God" comment either...You, my friend are intolerant, and humorless.


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Posted by Christina
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2008 at 4:26 pm

I just don't understand why my fellow members of the Christian faith -- by far the majority faith in America -- feel so persecuted and defensive any time anyone raises a question.

Why behave like a persecuted minority when exactly the opposite is true?


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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 24, 2008 at 10:31 pm

We have the council pulling the wool over our eyes with the Acorn Restaurant Fiasco and we are talking about using chambers???

Where are your priorities? The El Camino Real Development idea is a farce. It is nothing but a joke. How? The council already decided FOR YOU what should go on that property.


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Posted by Ken
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2008 at 10:57 pm

Intolerance must be opposed whenever and wherever it appears, before it becomes a force that cannot be stopped except, possibly, at a very high price.
This particular brand of intolerance began some years ago. It started slowly and almost imperceptibly with lawsuits that didn't seem important enough to worry about at the time. But the problem has been growing. The lawsuits are multiplying and the culture is being affected.
Today it is common to hear slurs against religious believers that were never heard just twenty years ago. There is hatred and contempt primarily for Christians, especially amongst "intellectuals" (who oddly think of themselves as tolerant). Many people now mistakenly think the Constitution grants freedom "from" religion rather than freedom "of" religion.
In post WWI Germany, in a short span of years, the law was used; first just to limit, then to control and then to eliminate a whole group of people. Those who lived through it claimed they didn't see it comming.


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Posted by minority rights
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 24, 2008 at 11:31 pm

Pretty ironic to be talking about "intolerance" and eliminating a whole group of people. I wonder how many of you who are blasting the letter writers would be doing so if the writers were Christian rather than Jewish?

As Christina said, it's odd to see the majority religious group feigning persecution.

Religious groups should not be using our council chambers to pray or to talk about prayer. Those of you who are so ardently defending this clear abuse of the separation doctrine, ask yourself how you would feel if the religious group in question didn't have "Christian" in its name.


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Posted by Human Being
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 25, 2008 at 1:14 am

Civil rights are for everyone, regardless of minority or majority status. It is interesting that you think that only the rights of minorities can be violated or should be defended.
BTW, Mr. Ballard's religious group is not even technically a Christian one, despite the name. And it is a tiny, minority religious group in comparison to others.
One dosen't have to be Christian to defend a Christian or Jewish to defend a Jew - or Black or a woman or a disabled person to defend the same. You just have to value the dignity of the human person.


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Posted by dude
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2008 at 8:20 am

Maybe no one should be eligible to run for public office unless they are agnostic or athiest. That way we can really be sure of fairness.


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Posted by Fascinated
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 25, 2008 at 8:23 am

Thank you, Mr. Engel, for inspiring such a debate. Not sure which side I'm on, but I would like to know what the city's policy on renting out the chambers is (Almanac?) and to review the constitutional issues more closely.

This discussion is fascinating, but I have to agree 100 percent with Christina. Christians are not the persecuted group in this country -- far, far from it. With such strength in numbers (and hence, power), why are you folks so afraid of a debate on a legitimate constitutional question?

And yes, freedom OF religion does also mean freedom FROM religion for those of use who are not believers. I'm not sure that concept applies in this situation, but I'd like to know the reasoning of people like Ken who make a distinction between the two. If you believe that Americans have freedom OF religion, not FROM, do you think the state could legitimately require church attendance of all citizens, as long as each person can choose the church?


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Posted by dude
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2008 at 9:10 am

no one is requiring attendance of the meeting in city council chambers.

once again, there is a "no establishment" clause in the constitution...not a mention of "separation of church and state".

why is there such interpretation on simple and straight forward language? gotta love lawyers, no?


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Posted by Ken
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2008 at 10:44 am

The founders of our country wrote the First Amendment, establisment clause, precisely to prevent the state from declaring any state religion to the exclusion of all others (including the option not to participate).- Remember, many of their families had risked their lives to excape British religious persecution and they wanted to form a state that guaranteed their right to practice their religion without government harassment. Hence The First Amendment also prevents the state from interfering in any way with the free practices of religious groups.
The state cannot MANDATE any citizen, whether religious or not to attend church. It also cannot MANDATE that those who choose not to practice a religion be shielded from exposure to the practices of others. In other words' a person has the right to opt out of religious participation but not the right to prevent or infringe upon the rights of others to participate, even in public. Thus there is no freedom "from" religion.
A citizen is expected to be tolerant of the diversity of religious expression while not required to participate. The First Amendment (like most of the others) limits the government, not the citizen. It is a statement of goverment noninterference. The government cannot bar a citizen from public property for expressing religious (or any other) views. Neither may other citizens.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 25, 2008 at 10:51 am

Let's cut through the fog here and address the actual issue at hand and not bigger issues that want to be thrown in (supposed religious persecution of Christians, etc.).

Mr. Engle asked if this "event" was "legal and appropriate."

There's no way it was out-and-out illegal, else it would never have made it this far (and if you want to make it illegal, go to court or the legislature).

So now let's look at the "appropriate" part.

I dare say if this took place at the Burgess rec center or in the library basement (open community spots), it would have been a "non-issue" (assuming they paid what everyone else pays and played by the same rules).

The key is that it was held at the council chambers - something obviously associated in people's minds directly with "government". Hence the "separation of church and state" arguments above. I don't buy those specific arguments, since the event wasn't formally sanctioned/endorsed by the council members and apparently none of them attended - but, at the same time, that still doesn't make it "appropriate."

What I would like to know is:

1) Why were the council chambers used instead of the rec center, library, etc? (My guess: they wanted to record/broadcast it using the facilities there - something that would justify its specific use in my mind)

2) What other non-gov't groups have used the council chambers? This is where I think it can be considered "inappropriate" in this case, as I can't recall any other non-gov't "events" being held there.

3) Was the "event" a lecture (as advertised) or a sermon? Were "recruitment" materials handed out to join the church? If so, now you have some true "separation of church and state" issues in my mind.

Sounds like a good story for the Almanac in next week's paper!


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Posted by Rory Brown
Almanac staff writer
on Jan 25, 2008 at 12:29 pm

Rory Brown is a registered user.

Assistant city clerk Sherry Kelly (in a phone message) said as far as she can tell, the city has no policy regarding who can or can't use the council chambers. There's just "an application form that people complete."
The Almanac has left several messages for City Attorney Bill McClure requesting more information on the church and state issue, and what groups have used the chambers in the past.
We'll post the information when we get it, and look for a story in next week's Almanac.


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Posted by dude
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2008 at 12:56 pm

So it sounds like, per Sherry Kelly, that it is set up for EVERYONE..how it should be...because it is a PUBLIC facility...and now some complainer needs attention and is going to ruin a good thing....typical.


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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 25, 2008 at 1:19 pm

If the chambers aren't being used at the time, then any group should be able to use them.

Who cares who uses it. What if cat lovers used the space a few times? Does that taint the chambers? Does it (or should it) offend dog lovers?

It may sound silly, but these are great analogies.

If any group isn't burning incense, trashing the joint or lighting candles everywhere, what does it matter to you?

Kicking out legitimate business in the chambers for the benefit of a private group is one thing, but that isn't what's going on here. Right?

By the way, it is separation of church and state... not "from" or whatever inserted language some are using. No one is forcing religion on anyone here.

If a religious group uses our public sidewalks (owned by the city), is the city endorsing that group? Supporting that group? if so, then the city must be endorsing and supporting the homeless folks in front of draegers. (somewhat off topic there... sorry)


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Posted by Human Being
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 25, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Observer, it is good that you realize that it is legal for this speaker to give his presentation. So lets look at the issue of appropriateness.
In their letter, Mr.and Mrs. Engle-Orasanu wrote: "...we do object, strongly, to the use of a public, tax-based, civic venue for apparently religious purposes. It creates the appearance of city council and administration endorsement." Notice the phrases "apparently religious" and "creates the appearance". This statement itself is worded carefully to creat the appearance of inappropriateness when none has been established. Are we to prevent this presentation for the sake of appearances now?
Furthermore, the authors of the letter conclude: "We are asking this lecture permit in the council chambers (or any other Menlo Park facility) be withdrawn." Any other Menlo Park facility includes the rec center, the library, etc. So this is not just about the use of council chambers.
In response to Christina, is this letter your idea of someone just raising a question? Perhaps you should read it again because these authors are demanding that the speaker's permit be withdrawn when he is breaking NO law!


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Posted by ignorance is never the answer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 25, 2008 at 3:49 pm

If the Ku Klux Klan applied to use the chambers, should that be allowed? Maybe some of you would say yes, but I'd bet most people would say no. The fact that Menlo Park doesn't have a policy on use just indicates that this is one more area in which the city is deficient.

Comments about homeless people on sidewalks just reflect how far some of you will go to prop up your case. Separation of church and state has nothing to, except perhaps in some twisted minds, with instituting a police state the regulates everyone's movements. But, come to think of it, if the homeless tried to hold a rally in he chambers, bet we'd hear an outcry.

Remember the pro-rights nut who used to offend so many people by marching with gory signs on Middlefield? He won in court many times. So those of you who think the law should only apply when it supports your point of view clearly have many holes in your understanding of our legal system. For starters, educate yourself on case law.


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Posted by Ken
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2008 at 4:29 pm

Ignorance, Do not try to equate hate speech with a lecture on prayer. It is just a disgusting attempt to twist the argument.(Look how far you yourself have gone to prop up your own case.) The city cannot set any policy that violates a citizen's basic rights - in this case, his First Amendment rights.


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Posted by Respect Everyones Rights
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 25, 2008 at 4:46 pm

Have you not noticed there are many holes in case law?


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Posted by Rory Brown
Almanac staff writer
on Jan 25, 2008 at 5:16 pm

Rory Brown is a registered user.

City Attorney Bill McClure's understanding is that the city has no policy regarding who can or can't use the council chambers.
I asked if a white supremacist group could use the chambers for a rally, and Mr. McClure said "yes, probably." He said the city can't discriminate on the basis of the message or beliefs of an organization that wants to use the facility.
I asked if someone could host a "How to make bombs seminar", and he said no. If a group wants to hold an event to commit, or conspire to commit, an illegal act, the city has the right to deny the use of the chambers.
The city manager's office is drafting a policy to avoid confusion about who can or can't use the chambers for an event, according to City Manager Glen Rojas. A draft policy could go before the council as soon as next month, he said.


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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 26, 2008 at 8:35 am

@ Rory: I am glad to hear this. Once the guidelines are set, perhaps we can concentrate on some real problems that affect all of us... El Camino Real!

@ everyone: Guess what? The council already decided what to do with the Acorn Restaurant lot... without YOU!

@ Ignorance: I see that you have successfully failed to understand the my previous post.


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Posted by True Civil Rights
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 26, 2008 at 9:34 am

It looks like this nasty boil has been lanced.
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.


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Posted by RealityCheck
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 26, 2008 at 10:56 am

Joanna:
El Camino Real: Nobody cares!
BUT
Religion plus Politics: Bar the door, Katie, they're all on a mad rampage of self-righteousness!

Dictionary: Making a mountain out of a molehill - see above!

New Mayor Cohen: Here's your first real "issue" - take 2 aspirins and see me in the morning!


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Posted by Tidy Bowl
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 26, 2008 at 11:30 am

@ Joanna: How's that Recall Fergie effort coming? You must have tens of tens of supporters by now, but still there are no trebuchets at the doors of the council chambers....

Tidy


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Posted by Think Again
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2008 at 11:57 am

RealityCheck,- maybe you need one. Now that the bigoted religion haters have egg all over their faces, You want to downplay the whole thing - damage control.
I found this thread most illuminating. There were Con law (fitting name) "experts" pushing the falsehood that Ballard's legitimate use of public facilities violated constitutional law.
Race baiters trying (unsuccessfully) to drag the issue off topic.
And "Christians" saying that if members of a supposed majority complain when their rights are being violated, it is just paranoia - and that, really, it is the Christians who are the offenders anyway.
Yes, this has been a very revealing discussion indeed!


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Posted by RealityCheck
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 26, 2008 at 12:35 pm

Think Again,

Trying to drag me into your muck - no thanks!
Re-read my post - there's no "side" I'm, except the "silly side" - that you and the "bigoted religion haters" as you call them, are making a mountain out of a molehill.
Classic red vs. blue stuff that us "purples" (moderates/independents) can only shake our heads at.


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Posted by Curious
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 26, 2008 at 1:00 pm

I wonder if Mr. Ballard has heard anything about the controversy that was sparked by his innocent actions? Almanac, could you post the date of his talk for those who might be interested? - of course we all know where it is being held.


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Posted by Think Again
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2008 at 1:04 pm

Sorry Mr. Reality Check, but I am also an independent, so your little theory dosen't hold.


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Posted by Renee Batti
news editor of The Almanac
on Jan 26, 2008 at 1:57 pm

Renee Batti is a registered user.

Curious, Too late to satisfy your curiosity first-hand. The talk was scheduled for Jan. 24. And judging from responses from church members who contacted the Almanac, I suspect that Mr. Ballard was aware of the controversy.


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Posted by god bless menloco park
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 26, 2008 at 3:27 pm

The idea that the building that houses our governing body should be used for a religious program is anathema to many people of many religious backgrounds. Not just atheists. As for egg-on-the-face that TA (no doubt a member of a religion that believes in showing kindess and humility) is crowing about, as far as I am concerned, the fact that the city is going to establish a use policy is the best possible outcome.

I thank the letter writers for sticking their neck out and being brave enough to broach this issue. Some of the rest of you show astonishing disregard for our legal process or for anyone else who holds a different view from yours.


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Posted by Think Again
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2008 at 10:54 am

GBMP, I didn't see any comments from those of other religious backgrounds asking that Ballard be banned from speaking in this discussion. And for the record, I happen to have been an agnostic for years. It's astounding to me that you consider the authors of these letters "brave" for demanding the violation of this man's free speech.


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Posted by good for the goose
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2008 at 1:37 pm

It's not about "free speech." (Some of you have a really tough time sticking to the issues.) It's about separation, and where to draw the line.

Most of us would agree that it would not be okay, for example, to begin a city council meeting with a prayer service led by a Christian Scientist (or Methodist, or Buddhist) minister. Most of us would not have a problem with a guy sitting outside council chambers on a bench talking about his religion to anyone who walked by. We might find him annoying and try to avoid him, but we would agree that he has a right to free speech and that his presence does not violate the church-state separation doctrine.

As has been noted many times the "right to free speech" does not mean that you can say whatever you want whenever and wherever you please. If you don't believe me, try baiting a TSA agent the next time you travel.

Yes, the authors of the letter were brave for affixing their names to their position, whether you or I or anyone else agrees with them. If you were to put your name on your post, I'd call you brave too.


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Posted by True Civil Rights
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 27, 2008 at 2:11 pm

It is clear from City Attorney Bill McClure's statements, that it is Mr. and Mrs. Engle and their supporters who have shown "astonishing disregard for our legal process or for anyone else who holds a different view from [theirs]."
No matter what the facts are you are still trying to twist them to fit your misguided beliefs. Now the city must waste time clarifying the law for people like you who don't understand it, or who don't like it.
Mr. McClure said that the city can't discriminate on the basis of the message or beliefs of an organization that wants to use the facility. That means that Mr. Ballard's group or any other religious organization may use the city facilities. They are not forcing their views on anyone since attendance is voluntary - unlike a school setting.
As for people for whom the very idea that a religious group might use a public facility is "anathema", perhaps they should consider a course in diversity training and tolerance. Or if the problem is not just simple ignorance, but something more deep seated then therapy may be warranted. After all, we as a society do want to be compassionate, but we cannot cater to the ignorant or the disturbed at the expense of our basic rights and freedoms.


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Posted by it will set you free
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 27, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Actually, what McClure said is that they realize that there are problems with not having a policy. Not having a policy means that anyone, including an organization that many would find offensive (eg the KKK), could hold a meeting in our council chambers. I'd rather see the staff and council devote some time to establishing these kinds of policies than to arguing about the relative merits of requiring a resident remodeling his home to plant rose bushes vs junipers. In particular, the council's role is focus on big picture issues, not to micromanage, and setting policy for use of public facilities is an important issue.

Accusing anyone who believes in church/state separation of bigotry is ludicrous. I am a devout adherent to my religion, but if someone who shares my religious beliefs had asked to use the chambers, I would be no less opposed.

It's up to us, as a community, to set our own standards in many different arenas. We don't usually get involved in issues related to religion, but that doesn't mean we should be squeamish about dealing with them. The letter writers ignited a discussion that seems to be resulting in a positive outcome for our city. We should all be grateful.

Oh, and by the way, in a democracy no single person can be said to have ownership of "true civil rights." Take a dose of humility and I'll see you in the morning.


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Posted by Think Again
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2008 at 4:36 pm

Mr. McClure actually stated that a white supremacist group could legally use the council chambers because you "can't discriminate on the basis of the message or beliefs". However if they were having an event to plan "to commit, or conspire to commit an illegal act", then they could not. "The city manager's office is drafting a policy to avoid confusion about who can or can't use the chambers". This policy will have to uphold the law as it is, - not as you or anyone else would like it to be. Local communities cannot vote to overule a statute.


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Posted by ever stop to think and forget to start again?
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 27, 2008 at 6:21 pm

Sorry, TA, think you need to dust off those law books (as if you owned any). The city is absolutely within its rights to establish policy about who can use facilities. They could, for example, restrict rentals to city residents. Not illegal at all. There is no statute that prevents them from doing so.

McClure gave one example of a situation in which a permit would not be granted. But I doubt he meant to suggest that was the only situation in which the city would deny an application. If someone wanted to hold a dog show in the chambers, the city would be under no obligation to accommodate them. I realize that example is farfetched, but it underscores the fact that we have every right to determine who can and who cannot use our facilities, as long as we do so in a way that doesn't violate the civil rights of an applicant. Obviously, we cannot say "we won't rent to Christian Scientists" but we can say that the facilities can only be used by secular organizations that sponsor events open to the public and do not charge a fee.


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Posted by Think Again
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2008 at 6:51 pm

Well good luck on that one! You will have to ban ALL use but city business use in order to avoid the religious discriminatiom issue. Let me know how it works out for you. But then I guess we will see shortly what the city of Menlo Park has to say about their policy clarification, won't we. And if you don't like the decision, see how far you get with a lawsuit. Have fun!


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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 27, 2008 at 9:14 pm

I don't know why this chamber thing is such a big issue. Some armchair busybody notices that a group of people use the chambers and they think that laws are being broken.

Go to law school or something. There is nothing wrong with any group using the chambers. If you want to talk about extremes like anarchists or bomb making clubs, then go write a different article and go away... this is about real people in real circumstances.

When everyone figures out (or is told most likely) that no laws are broken then it is OVER.

In any case, if the chambers are free, I don't see the problem. Maybe some group will make good use of them. The council certainly doesn't.

-------------

@Alternate Reality Check:
Maybe you don't care about ECR. So what? The rest of us do.

@ Toilet Bowl:
Hahahahaha 3"

-------------


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Posted by Anarchist
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 28, 2008 at 7:31 am

Hey, Joanna, I don't make bombs. My club is much more creative than that. I think you need to study up on anarchism. And while you're at it, try to calm yourself down a bit and stop sniping at these folks who are debating an interesting question.


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Posted by pragmatist
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 28, 2008 at 9:14 am

Lots of residents use the chambers already. Neighborhood associations, Girl Scouts, soccer leagues. All are non-sectarian organizations that do not charge an admission fee to attendees.

It is wholly appropriate that these community groups be allowed to use city facilities for meetings. The question is where to draw the line, and as much as some of you may hate to admit it, that is a valid question.


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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 28, 2008 at 9:39 am

So, let's review. What have we learned after 57 blog comments?

1. It is very difficult -- impossible for many -- to enter a debate and stick to the subject without personal rancor.
2. It is very difficult for most of us to express our opinions clearly and reasonably, and in complete sentences.
3. Most people are willing to express themselves in a very assertive manner without having done any homework or "due diligence."
4. Most people actually know very little about the U.S. Constitution and its meanings.
5. Thinking analytically and rationally is immensely challenging and most of us are not equipped to do so.
6. Anger seems to be just beneath the surface among very many people who also have hair triggers.
7. Many people believe that there is only one point of view about any subject, and that is theirs.
8. That there are 57 comments is, in fact, very reassuring insofar as we learn that most people are willing to be concerned about and confront important questions and issues.
9. Although many people prefer to express their views anonymously, I have no problem with that because I believe so very much in freedom of speech.
10. My name is spelled ENGEL (not Engle).


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Posted by dude
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2008 at 11:00 am

from 2 comments by Mr. ENGEL...we see that he is:

1. Very full of himself.

2. Still wrong.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 28, 2008 at 12:31 pm

Mr. Engel, it is clear from the above posts that there are many points of view on this subject. It is also obvious that people prefer their own point of view over all others - and that includes you.
It is also clear from your letter that you were not simply asking for a discussion of this issue. You did not, for instance, ask for a review or a clarification of the city policy regarding the use of city facilities. No, you asked that the permit for Mr. Ballard's lecture be withdrawn. You stated that his use of public facilities gave the "appearance" of city council and administration endorsement and that it therefore "seemingly" violated the First Amendment "establishment" clause.
In your ten points above, you subtly denigrate those who disagree with you and imply that you have a superior understanding of the law. Well then, Mr. Engel, without regurgitating a list from case law, please state in layman's terms exactly why you consider Mr. Ballard's lecture illegal. I (and I think many others) would be most interested in your explanation. So far we have heard nothing of real substance from you on this issue.


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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 28, 2008 at 1:07 pm

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State." Thomas Jefferson 1802
*******************************************************************************************
"The petitioners contend, among other things, that the state laws requiring or permitting use of the Regents' prayer must be struck down as a violation of the Establishment Clause because that prayer was composed by governmental officials as a part of a governmental program to further religious beliefs. For this reason, petitioners argue, the State's use of the Regents' prayer in its public school system breaches the constitutional wall of separation between Church and State. We agree with that contention, since we think that the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that, in this country, it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government." U.S. Supreme Court; Engel v. Vitale 370 U.S. 421 (1962)(no relation).
************************************************************************************
See also: U.S. Supreme Court
ALLEGHENY COUNTY v. GREATER PITTSBURGH ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 (1989)
492 U.S. 573
COUNTY OF ALLEGHENY ET AL. v. AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION,
GREATER PITTSBURGH CHAPTER, ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT
No. 87-2050.

Argued February 22, 1989
Decided July 3, 1989 *
This litigation concerns the constitutionality of two recurring holiday displays located on public property in downtown Pittsburgh.
*******************************************************************************
U.S. Supreme Court: Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971)

The Court's decision in this case established the "Lemon test", which details the requirements for legislation concerning religion. It consists of three prongs:
The government's action must have a legitimate secular purpose;
The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.

If any of these 3 prongs is violated, the government's action is deemed unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.


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Posted by dude
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2008 at 1:51 pm

None of these are applicable...especially Lemon v Kurtzman.

The government isn't taking ANY action in this case. Someone is speaking in a public facility.

Once again...the government isn't saying, "listen to the people talking at this event or we will put you in jail". They aren't endorsing anything.

Get a hobby Mr. E-N-G-E-L


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Posted by thank you, Martin
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 28, 2008 at 2:36 pm

Dude, I think Martin summed it up pretty well. (His #5 applies to most of your comments.) Moreover, I believe that anyone who has repeatedly served on commissions and otherwise contributed to the wellbeing of our city, as he has, should be given serious consideration whenever he raises an issue of potential significance. Although I would not have written the letter he wrote, the fact that the city has no rules about who can use the chambers does make me uneasy

Someone who doesn't live in MP and won't sign a real name doesn't have a lot of standing on this issue.


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Posted by ken
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2008 at 5:01 pm

Mr. Engel, this is the same list you presented earlier. Your first example supports those who defend Mr. Ballard; the legislature should make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Furthermore, the city of Menlo Park is not establishing his religion by allowing Mr. Ballard's lecture. Your second example is not relevant since the Menlo Park city government did not compose a prayer that people would be required to participate in at Mr. Ballard's lecture.(Remember, the attendance at this lecture was voluntary. Those who felt that they might be offended by it weren't forced to go.) Your third example is irrelevant since Mr. Ballard was not putting up a religious display to be left in the city council chambers or any other city facility. Your fourth example is a great example of a very bad law. It allows for highly subjective interpretations. - Just what is "excessive government entanglement"? However, the city of Menlo Park is not writing legislation on religion in this case.
My real question to you, Mr. Engel, is not about case law. It is about the practical, common sense issue of what real harm has been caused by Mr. Ballard's lecture? What is the great fear here? I do not want a legal smokescreen for an answer. I want an honest, straightforward answer.


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Posted by Harumpphh
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 28, 2008 at 5:31 pm

During the past 3 years the city has allowed a private group that presents VC information to use the chamber about 4+ times without charge, even though that organization charged admission to the public. No discount for MP residents or businesses.

This largesse saved the organizer $$$ from having to rent hotel meeting space.




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Posted by WOW
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 28, 2008 at 6:34 pm

"During the past 3 years the city has allowed a private group that presents VC information to use the chamber about 4+ times without charge, even though that organization charged admission to the public. No discount for MP residents or businesses.
This largesse saved the organizer $$$ from having to rent hotel meeting space."

Now - if true - THAT p's me off 10x more than some lecture on prayer & the environment.








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Posted by Private citizen
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2008 at 6:36 pm

Just because some of us choose to post anonymously so that the religion haters can't key our cars and so forth (as a demonstration of their brand of tolerance), dosen't mean that our views count for less than someone else's. Also I hope you don't mean to imply that Mr. Engel's views should be given preference since he served on some commission or other.


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Posted by reasonable and rational, what a concept!
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 28, 2008 at 9:20 pm

Who's a religion hater? The only person who's acknowledged being an agnostic, which is hardly the same as hating religon, is in favor of allowing members of religious groups to use the chambers for whatever purposes they choose. Popped that theory!

As for cars being keyed because of philosophical disagreement, maybe that happens in "other community" but anyone who had to resort to such tactics in Menlo Park would be acknowledging that s/he had lost the argument.

No one said that Martin's views should be given precedence, only that he had earned the right to be heard. Anons from other cities can complain all they want on our board--free speech and all--but I trust that our city attorney and city manager don't give their anonymous concerns much consideration. I can't speak for the Almanac, but am reasonably certain that they don't publish letters from anons.

And I agree that the private VC group should be renting space at the Stanford Park. I hope the new rules do exclude non-residents and anyone who charges a fee for attendance.


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Posted by An Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Jan 28, 2008 at 11:57 pm

After years of interesting conversations with both agnostics and atheists, I have found that they are two very different kinds of people.
Agnostics base their position on the fact that one can not, through the exercise of reason, either prove or disprove the existence of God. They generally have no axe to grind in the debate on God and religion, and aren't bothered by someone else's beliefs or practices.
Atheists on the other hand, adamantly deny the existence of God for various personal reasons that they usually are unwilling to disclose. It is not based on logical reasoning because the nonexistence of God can not be proven. Those atheists who were willing to discuss the issues behind their beliefs, told me that they had experienced some deep disappointment with God or with a church. Many had a strong mistrust or fear of religion. They expressed a fear of being judged by someone else's religious standards. Some atheists were quite hostile about the whole subject. In short, their position is reactive and based on negative emotion.
Atheism can be used to promote or enforce certain political interests, as in communist Russia or china, because some religious teachings get in the way of totalitarianism.
Finally, it is facinating to me to see that since radical Islam itself is totalitarian in nature, those who use atheism as a tool for political power and control are very comfortable with the religion of Islam.


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Posted by dude
a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2008 at 6:07 am

In response to Martin:

There is a reason I no longer live in Menlo Park. Hmmmmm.


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Posted by LessonNo1
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 29, 2008 at 8:55 am

DNFTT
Translation For Newbies: Do not feed the troll (from "another community") - and he will go away.


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Posted by Liz
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 29, 2008 at 10:33 am

I love the tactics and the attitude of "Lesson" and RRWC above. No doubt they are great believers in free speech when that speech suits them. But in this instance, they just want the opposing views to "go away". Or they use the ruse that somebody's opinion dosen't or shouldn't carry any weight if they are unwilling to give their name and residence. (Isn't it ironic that these same people won't use their real names either?)
Many people choose to post anonymously so that they don't get harassed at work or where they live for expressing "politically incorrect" views. This is a valid concern. I've seen this kind of intolerance for myself where I work.
Some on this thread want to pretend that this issue is only a local, Menlo Park issue. So the opinions of those outside of Menlo don't matter. I couldn't disagree more!
Free speech, freedom of religion, the "separation of church and state", civil rights and discrimination are issues of importance that go FAR beyond Menlo Park. They are fundamental areas of concern for all Americans. And what we do here in our city will influence other cities.


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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 29, 2008 at 11:52 am

Wow... Mr. Engle created such a big controversy over nothing.

Let's see what the new policy will outline. In the mean time, let's keep irrelevant and inapplicable case laws out of the picture.

Group hug?


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Posted by Richard Hine
editor of The Almanac
on Jan 29, 2008 at 3:25 pm

Richard Hine is a registered user.

Here is a link to a related story and post: Web Link


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