ACLU Fights to Get Minister a Permit to Baptize

July 09, 2002

The ACLU of Michigan has intervened on behalf of a Baptist minister who was unconstitutionally denied a permit to conduct baptisms at a lake operated by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

In a letter to William Kosmider, the park manager for the Fort Custer Recreation Area in Augusta, MI, the ACLU has requested that the DNR reconsider their denial of a permit to Rev. William Stein, the founder of Baptism USA Ministries.  Rev. Stein submitted a request for a permit in order to perform baptisms on Eagle Lake. 

“We’re hopeful that this can be resolved amicably,” said Jim Rodbard, the ACLU cooperating attorney handling the matter.  “However, we are prepared to file a lawsuit against the DNR for violating Rev. Stein’s right to freely exercise his religious beliefs if they continue to deny the permit.

According to a letter sent to Rev. Stein by the DNR, the permit was denied because it was “. . . assumed that [Baptism USA Ministries’] activities would dominate the activities of a popular beach on several summer weekends, and may conflict with other user’s enjoyment.”  The letter also stated that the baptisms would violate Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”), Parks and Recreation Bureau Policy 8.15 which requires that any religious activity in the park be interdenominational in nature, and that such activities not conflict with other users. 

“The reason the DNR may be denying permits to religious groups (other than so-called ‘interdenominational’ groups) is to steer clear from the appearance that it is endorsing one religion over another.  While perhaps well-meaning, such action is a clear violation of the free speech clause of the First Amendment.  This is not a case where the government is sponsoring or endorsing religious activities; rather it is one where government is denying a private group the right to engage in speech based on the content of the speech.,” wrote Mr. Rodbard in his letter to the DNR.    

The ACLU is requesting that a permit be immediately issued to Rev. Stein and Baptism USA Ministries so that baptism services can be conducted at Eagle Lake on July 13 and 20, and on August 3, 10 and 17, 2002. 

For more information visit: The Battle Creek Enquirer

DNR Backs Off on Battle by Claudia Linsley of the Battle Creek Enquirer.

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