ACLU of Hawaii Files Lawsuit Over Use of City's "Family Day" Festival to Promote Christianity

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
July 14, 2003 12:00 am

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ACLU of Hawaii Files Lawsuit Over Use of City’s “Family Day” Festival to Promote Christianity


HONOLULU-The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii today filed a lawsuit against city officials here charging that a recent city-sponsored “Family Day” festival impermissibly entwined government with religion because it promoted fundamentalist Christian beliefs and raised money for fundamentalist Christian organizations.

The ACLU’s lawsuit, Rev. Vaughn Beckman et al. v. City and County of Honolulu et al., was filed on behalf of five residents and taxpayers of the county and comes on the heels of another ACLU lawsuit challenging the exclusion of several gay individuals from a related Family Day Parade. Both events were held on July 4; a ruling in the parade case is pending.

“The city’s actions here are part of a broader policy and practice of using city events which are supported by tax payer dollars to provide certain religious groups special access to large audiences to which they can spread their message,” said Brent White, Legal Director of the ACLU of Hawaii. “This mixing of government with religion only serves to divide the community, and it is forbidden by the U.S. Constitution.”

According to the ACLU’s complaint, the city, in conjunction with the Hawaii Christian Coalition, did not allow equal access to all organizations to perform at Family Day events but invited only select groups and individuals to provide entertainment. The city reserved the vast majority of the entertainment and programming opportunities at Family Day for evangelical Christian churches. ACLU attorneys said that no other religious viewpoints other than that of fundamentalist Christians were represented at the festival.

“I am deeply concerned that the City of Honolulu and the Hawaii Christian Coalition used Family Day to promote the fundamentalist religious beliefs of one segment of our society to the exclusion of all others,” said Reverend Vaughn Beckman, a Senior Minister at the First Christian Church, president of the Interfaith Alliance of Hawaii and a graduate of Liberty Baptist Seminary. The ACLU is representing Rev. Beckman in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit further charges that applications posted on the city website directed corporate sponsors and individuals wishing to participate in the Family Day Festival to send checks directly to Christian Family Charities, a non-profit organization that raises money for conservative Christian religious organizations including the Hawaii Christian Coalition, Hawaii Right-to-Life, and several Christian churches on the mainland and in Hawaii.

In addition, ACLU attorneys said that performances at the festival’s Keiki Stage were entirely evangelical in nature and directed at proselytizing young, impressionable children. Other performances at the event’s Songfest were entirely Christian-themed and included testimonials from “born-again Christians” who urged others to convert to Christianity.

“The city spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on the Family Day Event, which was essentially used to raise money for certain Christian organizations,” said Holly Huber, a named plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Sponsorship and application fees should have gone to the city to compensate taxpayers for this costly event, but instead they were funneled to support religious organizations. It is so upsetting that the city would misuse taxpayer money like this, especially when were are told that they have to cut important services because of budgetary constraints.”

The lawsuit seeks a court order directing the city to account for all expenditures of city resources and time in relation to the preparation and execution of the Family Day event, as well as an order directing defendants Mayor Jeremy Harris and Malcolm Tom, City Deputy Managing Director, to compensate taxpayers for misuse of public funds. The ACLU also seeks an order preventing the city from misusing public funds to promote religion in the future.

In addition to Beckman and Huber, Rupert Teves, Juliet Begley and Michael Golojuch, Jr. are named as plaintiffs in the ACLU’s lawsuit.

The ACLU’s legal complaint is available online at: /node/34965.

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