The Political Geography of Michigan

A federal judge has ruled that the city of Warren must allow a “reason station” in city hall because it allows a local church to have a prayer station.

Michael J. Hluchaniuk, a US Magistrate Judge, did not cite separation of church and state, or freedom of religion in his decision.  Instead, his reasoning focused on ensuring equality of services and access between religious and non-religious individuals visiting city hall.

The case arose from a suit filed against Warren’s mayor, James Fout, and the City of Warren by Douglas Marshall, who had requested permission to set up an atheist-based “reason station” in the atrium of the city hall, citing the fact that a religiously-based “prayer station” was already set up in the same area. Fout, who denied Marshall’s request, cited concerns that the reason station would be disruptive to the prayer station and discourage religious visitors from practicing their religion.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took action and filed suit for Marshall, making the argument that city officials are not allowed to select which religious messages are allowed in public areas such as city hall. Fout maintains that he felt that allowing the reason station would “promote conflict within city hall” and questions whether the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) is legitimate.  The FFRF has tried in the past to contest a nativity on city hall property, and has contested the prayer station and an annual day of prayer held at city hall, without success.

Judge Hluchaniuk ordered that the reason station would operate on terms that are no less favorable than those offered to the prayer station are.  His order also instructed the city to reimburse the ACLU for their costs and legal fees, which totaled $100,000.

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