Saturday, August 23, 2008

Private Groups Meeting in a Public Park

This morning, Saturday August 23, Mosaic Church of the Valley, a new church belonging to the Assemblies of God denomination held an event called "Phoenixville Community Day" in Reeves Park. Although their beliefs may be a bit more socially conservative than the mainstream, it was nice to see them reaching out to the community.

This is an example of the park being used by a private group for public purposes. Other examples of this include last week's Latino Cultural Festival or political rallies, such as the ones we've seen for Ed Rendell, Lynn Swann, or John Edwards back in 2004. Generally speaking, I'm OK with this, where it can get sticky sometimes is when the group using the park expresses potentially polarizing views, be the political, religious, or whatever. So while it was cool that Mosaic church today was giving out free hot dogs and had a moon bounce open to any little kid who stopped by, was it cool for them to be praying over the loudspeaker and singing overtly Christian songs? Personally, I'm not the type who feels threatened by people who have different beliefs than me but maybe it would have been better handled if they limited themselves to non-religious material and simply made people who were interested aware of their location and what time their church service was.

For the most part I like having groups like this meet in the park - they often do it with the purpose of reaching out to the community and usually try to have some activities to capture your interest. It's no guarantee that only relatively benign groups will meet. What if some extremist group like the Ku Klux Klan or a radical Islamic group wanted to meet in the park? Based on free speech, I'm not sure the borough could (or should) prevent them from meeting as well.


amelia said...

I've been watching Campaign2008 on C-SPAN, more specifically the Interfaith Gathering at the Democratic National Convention. There are religious speakers, prayers and singing representing many different Faith Groups, obviously condoned by our government.
We are a nation free to celebrate our faith. This is politically correct. I am not particularly religious, but I believe it will be a sad day for the US when American voices are banned from singing songs in public areas, religious or otherwise. I can't imagine life without this basic freedom.

rtb said...

Here in the UK, anyone wanting to hold a meeting, set up a stall etc in a public park has to get the OK from the local council, and I imagine that it would be broadly similar in the US. Permission could be withheld should it be considered that the meeting or whatever is likely to cause a breach of the public peace in any way. This, of course, puts the onus on the local authority to decide where the line between "freedom of speech" and "public safety" lies.