A lawsuit filed by a church against a South Carolina town last year for prohibiting worship services at a public facility has prompted the municipality to lift the ban.
Redeemer Fellowship of Edisto Island and the town of Edisto Beach agreed Aug. 19 to end the suit, which alleged the town violated Redeemer Fellowship’s right to free exercise of religion after the municipality banned all rentals for religious worship services at its Edisto Beach Civic Center.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the church in the case, commended the town for lifting its ban, which the alliance said was inconsistent with the town’s own statement that it welcomes "civic, political, business, social groups and others" to use its civic center.
“Churches shouldn’t be treated less favorably than other groups that want to rent facilities,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb. "Its previous policy that singled out one form of expression — worship — as inferior to other forms of speech was clearly unconstitutional."
The August 2018 lawsuit came after the church rented the civic center for worship services on two occasions. When the congregation proposed a third rental agreement, the town rejected the application. According to town meetings minutes when the application was discussed, the town's attorney said that people passing around church flyers outside the facility would give the impression that the town is endorsing the church, which violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Meanwhile, ADF claimed in the the lawsuit that an Episcopal congregation had been using the public facility for five years to conduct Bible studies and theological training.
The town rescinded the prohibition in December 2018 and will have to pay $50,000 in attorney fees to the defendant.
The town would not provide comment on the incident.
It is not unusual for faith groups to use public facilities for worship and meeting space. Charleston County schools and the area convention center have been used often by churches for conferences and Sunday morning services.