DNR Right to Abandon Park Policy

October 01, 2002

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has done something that government agencies sometimes are reluctant to do: Abandon a rule that was unfair, ineffective and unneeded.

The DNR has dropped a policy, revised in 1999, that required religious groups that wished to "solicit, canvass or proselytize" in a state park to submit a written request for the activity and require participants to wear identification tags.

The policy came to light after the Rev. William Stein of Battle Creek asked permission last May to hold seven summer baptism services at Eagle Lake at Fort Custer Recreation Area. Stein was denied permission for the first two services, which he did not hold. He eventually obtained a permit for the remaining five baptism services and they were held with no problems at Eagle Lake.

The American Civil Liberties Union came to the defense of Stein and his Baptism USA Ministries, challenging the DNR policy as an unconstitutional infringement on the freedoms of speech and religion.

After being challenged, DNR officials conducted an independent review of the policy and came to the conclusion that it was not needed. We agree.

Religious groups should not be singled out for specific treatment regarding use of state parks or other state facilities. They should be subject to the same rules and regulations as any other group. Park officials certainly have the right to establish procedures for large groups to use the facility, but the procedures should apply to all groups, not just those with a religious purpose.

That is what DNR officials concluded after reviewing the policy regarding religious organizations. We are glad that they recognized the unfairness of the situation.

As DNR spokesman Brad Wurfel said, "The DNR is not about being obstructionist ... it's about fair and equitable use for all groups."

We're glad that Stein, the ACLU and the DNR could work together to come up with a solution to the controversy. No doubt groups in the future will benefit from their efforts.

From the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Related Issues: