Camp to help disadvantaged children sues Boston
The Center for Individual Rights represented Mason Cathedral Church of God in Christ in a lawsuit claiming that the City of Boston violated the church’s First Amendment rights when it removed federally funded counselors from the church’s annual summer day camp, the “Keys of Life” program, in 1999 because of voluntary prayer.
In a strongly worded 10-page complaint, Mason Cathedral contends that the City is “illegally and unconstitutionally” denying it the opportunity to participate in the City’s SummerWorks jobs program solely because of its religious beliefs in violation of the First Amendment.
The centerpiece of the dispute is Mason Cathedral’s Keys of Life camp, which serves about thirty inner-city children each year and is open to children of all faiths. The camp, whose goal is to educate the children and to provide meaningful employment to teenage counselors, had participated in the City’s SummerWorks program for a number of years.
However, in the summer of 1999 City officials conducted an unannounced visit and were shocked to learn that Keys of Life begins each day with the recital of a short prayer and the reading of a Bible story. When they further discovered that several of the federally funded counselors had engaged in voluntary prayer, City officials not only demanded that all religious activity at the camp cease, but at one point also sought to force the church to remove all religious symbols that might be visible to the campers and the counselors.
CIR Director of Litigation Michael McDonald said: “The City’s action to ban Keys of Life from the SummerWorks program has severely limited Mason Cathedral’s ability to assist disadvantaged children. In addition to being unconstitutional, this exclusion runs counter to the growing movement by political leaders–including Al Gore and George W. Bush–to rely on faith-based providers in the delivery of government-funded welfare services.”
Mason Cathedral is seeking a court-ordered injunction barring the City from continuing its ban as well as any and all “other relief” the court may deem proper to protect the expression of voluntary religious speech at the camp.