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.