ACLU warns Tony Young not to use city resources for religious activities
A few weeks back, during the whole “Life Walk” debacle, we noticed that San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts and City Councilmember Tony Young were listed as official sponsors of “Praise Fest.”
It’s clearly a religious event—there’s a dazzling cross right there on the flyer. You can also take the event website‘s word for it:
The 3rd Annual San Diego Praise Fest is designed to provide the San Diego community with an opportunity to come together in praise and worship through various forms of gospel music and healthy cultural celebration.
Praise and worship. County records show Roberts steered a $2,500 county grant to Pastors on Point, the non-profit behind the event. However, Roberts’ staff told CityBeat that the grant was caught and cancelled after county attorneys realized its religious nature. As a result, Roberts’ name and logo were removed from the promotional materials.
Young is different story. A public-records request did not turn up a grant from the city to the event. CityBeat played phone tag with Young for a few weeks on this and were unable to connect.
What we can say is this: The District 4 Democrat is tied to it to such an extent that one of the fest’s three stages was named the “Councilman Tony Young Main Stage.” Further, days before the event, Young gave Praise Fest top billing on his official “Weekly Update” (download here).
We forwarded the email to David Blair-Loy, legal director at the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, to see if he thought Young’s promotion of Praise Fest was legal.
On Friday, Blair-Loy sent a letter to Young (CC’ing City Attorney Jan Goldsmith), warning him that his actions may have violated the “No Aid Clause” in the California Constitution, which prohibits government resources from being used for religious purposes. Blair-Loy writes in the two-page letter (download here):
The ACLU strongly supports the right of individuals and private organizations to sponsor or participate in religious praise and worship. However, I am concerned that sponsorship of the Praise Fest in your official capacity as a city council member, using your official logo and linking to your official City website, as well as promoting the vent in an official flyer from your office with the City’s logo, implicated California law prohibiting governmental aid to religion.
Blair-Loy also says he’s concerned that Young’s support undermined the “No Preference Clause” in the California Constitution, which guarantees “free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference.” The letter did not threaten legal action, ending simply:
For these reasons, I ask you to refrain from sponsoring similar future events in your official capacity as a representative of the City. If you wish to sponsor such events, you may wish to consider doing so without using City logos or resources, solely in your capacity as an individual.