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Atheist group forces Detroit to renege on promise to reimburse church; ADF files motion to intervene

American Atheists tries to bully city to deny promised funds to inner-city church
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DETROIT — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a motion Monday in federal court to intervene on behalf of an inner-city Detroit church hung out to dry due to the actions of the American Atheists.

The city initiated a plan to improve the facades and parking lots of downtown property owners, including the church, in anticipation for the 2006 Super Bowl and to spur economic development in the area by reimbursing property owners for part of the improvements.  But because the atheist group has now sued the city, the city has been forced to withhold reimbursement from the church, even though the church has already secured a loan for and completed the requested improvements.

“A small band of radicals should not blackmail a city into reneging on a contract that it had every intention of honoring,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot.  “This church was simply being a good neighbor by complying with the city’s plan to present the best possible image to Super Bowl visitors and to spur economic development.  Just because a radical group doesn’t like the church, they cannot demand that the city put the brakes on the funds the city promised.”

In January, St. John’s Episcopal Church entered into a contract with the City of Detroit Development Authority to “enhance the visual appearance of street facing building facades and parking lot edges, prevent blight, attract businesses, and complement infrastructure.”  The contract provided that the DDA would reimburse the church for 50 percent of the expenditures--up to $180,000--for the improvements.

After the church borrowed $180,000 to complete the improvements, they submitted the documents required for payment to the DDA, which, under the terms of the contract, was to reimburse the church within 30 days.  American Atheists filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that the city violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution by entering into the contract with the church.

Because of the lawsuit, the DDA, which had every intention of reimbursing the church, was forced to tell the church that it could not presently honor its contract and that it would have to revisit reimbursing the church pursuant to the contract after the lawsuit is resolved.  In the meantime, the American Atheists lawsuit has forced the church to continue making payments on the funds it borrowed, with no idea of when or if it will receive the promised reimbursement.

“It’s our hope that the court will see this lawsuit for what it truly is.  This radical group doesn’t care if it financially cripples inner-city churches that honestly care for their surrounding communities,” said Theriot.  “The city’s agreement to reimburse the church for the improvements is no more an endorsement of religion than reimbursing a deli for improvements is an endorsement of eating meat.  The church’s interests deserve to be defended in this lawsuit, and we are willing to assist the city as they stand up to this legal intimidation.”

ADF is a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.

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Kevin Theriot
Kevin Theriot
Senior Counsel
Kevin Theriot serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom