Summerville’s Flowertown Festival to include secular humanists

SUMMERVILLE — The popular Flowertown Festival just seems to keep creating headaches for its Summerville YMCA managers.

The latest example: One of the community booths at the festival this year will be run by Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, after the YMCA reversed an earlier decision not to provide a booth for the organization to rent. The humanists promote a “nontheistic” human viewpoint that doesn’t include a deity. They were denied at first because the YMCA is a Christian organization.

The turnaround came after the national American Humanist Association reminded the YMCA that the refusal violated federal law preventing discrimination based on religious views.

“After reviewing the information that they provided and through prayer, consideration and legal counsel, we are allowing this group to be a vendor in this year’s festival,” the YMCA said in a news release provided by Gary Lukridge, chief executive officer. “The YMCA does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, color, religion or national origin, and we accept people of all faiths. Our mission is to be a community cornerstone that puts Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all.”

Amy Monsky, president of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, said she was disappointed by the original turndown because a festival goal is community building. The chapter’s volunteer and charitable work contribute to that, she said. She’s excited about being included in the festival.

“We can let other, like-minded people know we’re out there, and we can show that humanists and atheists are regular people. We’re not monsters. We’re good people, too, and part of the community,” she said.

The festival celebrating the town’s floral heritage takes place April 5-7. The event, a fundraiser for the YMCA, draws an estimated 200,000 people annually to more than 200 arts, crafts, food and sundry booths in and around Azalea Park on Main Street in the town’s historic district.

The YMCA’s handling of the festival spurred earlier controversies that have included:

A squabble with nearby residents who set up their own booths around the park in 2010.

Recurring nuisance problems caused by the swarm of cars and foot traffic through the residential district.

Criticism of an earlier, proposed $2 “voluntary admission” contribution that was dropped in 2002.

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