Attorneys from a religious freedom group have sued a coastal Colleton County community after the town kicked out a Christian group which had been holding services at its civic center.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed the lawsuit in federal court Monday against the town of Edisto Beach. The complaint argues the town council’s new ban on worship services at the Edisto Beach Civic Center is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Redeemer Fellowship of Edisto Island, a small Baptist church which had recently begun meeting at the center in Edisto Beach. Redeemer Fellowship had rented the center for Sunday worship on two occasions. However, after the church proposed another rental agreement, the town council voted to reject the application and amended the facility use guidelines to ban all rentals for “religious worship services.”
ADF attorneys insist that’s unconstitutional. “Churches shouldn’t be treated less favorably than other groups that want to rent facilities,” Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb said. “The town of Edisto Beach tells the community that it welcomes ‘civic, political, business, social groups and others’ to use its civic center, but the town’s recent policy change singles out one form of expression, worship, as inferior to other forms of speech, and that’s clearly unconstitutional. Redeemer Fellowship and its members have invested in the Edisto community for years, and they deserve fair treatment and equal access to the town’s public civic center.”
Mayor Jane Darby said she cannot comment because the lawsuit is ongoing. Edisto Beach is a town of roughly 400 people located along the Atlantic coast between Charleston and Hilton Head.
The lawsuit claims an Episcopal church has been renting a multi-purpose room for approximately five years, which it uses as office space for meetings and Bible studies. In addition, other various members of the community have rented space for a wide variety of events including wedding, birthday, and baptism celebrations.
While the constitution bans an official government establishment of religion, ADF attorneys argue legal precedent requires private churches not affiliated with the government to be treated the same as any other private organization.
“The government can’t discriminate against churches because of their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. “Redeemer Fellowship is being told they are unwelcome—in the same civic center where secular groups may meet and where another church already rents a room for Bible studies, vestry meetings, and theological training.”