Skip to content

Court grants ADF motion to represent church in suit filed by atheists against city of Detroit

Officials agreed to reimburse church for pre-Super Bowl renovation request

DETROIT — A church that found its interests tangled in the middle of a lawsuit filed by atheists will now be represented by attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund.

A federal court ruled Monday that St. John’s Episcopal Church can defend its interests in the suit, which was filed by American Atheists against the city of Detroit.  The atheist group filed suit after several property owners, including churches, entered into contracts with the city for the reimbursement of renovations of building facades and parking lots, which were partly in preparation for the 2006 Super Bowl.

“The city should not be bullied by a group seeking to deprive religious organizations of what is contractually theirs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot.  “Like other businesses and organizations involved, St. John’s Episcopal Church was simply agreeing to the city’s plan to help improve the appearance of the downtown area prior to a national event.  Detroit officials should not be forced to break this agreement simply because of an activist group’s cramped view of the Constitution.”

The City of Detroit Development Authority entered into a contract with St. John’s Episcopal Church to improve its exterior appearance in order to enhance the city’s image prior to the 2006 Super Bowl and to spur economic development in the area.  The contract provided for reimbursement of half the church’s expense, up to $180,000.

American Atheists filed suit on behalf of itself and a resident claiming a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  The suit caused the city to withhold any reimbursement promised to the church.  The church has already secured a loan for and completed the requested improvements.

“This inner-city church does not deserve to be punished for helping to spruce up the downtown area in accord with the city’s plan.  No reasonable person would consider the reimbursement money they are due from the city to be an endorsement of religion,” Theriot said.

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

Related Profiles

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