On November 18, 2018, the United States filed a Statement of Interest in U.S. District Court in South Carolina supporting a church’s claim that the Town of Edisto Beach violated its rights under the First Amendment when the Town barred it from renting space at the Town’s Civic Center. The case, Redeemer Fellowship of Edisto Island v. Town of Edisto Beach, involves a small Christian congregation that sought to rent space for Sunday worship in the Civic Center, which is available for rental by community groups to hold events and activities. The Town responded by enacting a policy barring worship services at the Civic Center, citing separation of church and state concerns. The church filed a First Amendment suit and sought a preliminary injunction to allow it to rent the facility. The United States’ statement of interest argues that far from being a justification for barring the church from the facility, the Constitution requires that churches be allowed to rent facilities on an equal basis with other community groups. The United States notes that the Supreme Court in 1981 held that a university could not “discriminate against student groups and speakers based on their desire to use a generally open forum to engage in religious worship and discussion,” and that later cases make clear this applies to other types of forums opened up by governments. On December 31, 2018, the Town voluntarily rescinded its ban on religious worship services at its Civic Center. On March 18, 2019, the court issued an order dismissing the church’s request for a preliminary injunction as moot because the Town remedied the illegal conduct through a legislative enactment. The court keeps the church’s requests for damages and declaratory relief, however, and orders that the private parties work the issue of damages out amongst themselves.
Case Open Date:
Sunday, November 18, 2018
Redeemer Fellowship of Edisto Island v. Town of Edisto Beach (D. S.C.)
Civil Rights Division
Civil Rights - Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
Updated April 2, 2019