ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney: David Briley of Bone, McAllester, Norton PLLC (Direct Representation)

In September 2008, Belmont University student Cory Wigal and several other students began organizing church services in a public park located across from the downtown library in Nashville. These services, known as the “Church on Church Street,” typically drew a crowd of fifteen to twenty-five students, homeless people and others every Sunday morning.

After meeting in this particular location for some time, the group was told that they could no longer meet in the park without a permit from the Board of Parks and Recreation. Wigal applied for a permit but was denied based on a Park Policy 3000.2 which states:

No park facility (including a community center) may be used for a religious activity on a regular or permanent basis during regular operating hours; use will only be granted on an emergency or temporary basis, and only then if sufficient causes is proven such as fire, demolition of building, etc. Religious activities occurring after regular operating hours, as all other after hour reservations, are subject to availability of staff and payment of appropriate usage fee.

ACLU-TN sent a demand letter to the Board of Parks and Recreation in May 2009 informing them of the unconstitutional nature of such a restriction and that their existing policy violated both the Free Exercise and Free Speech clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

ACLU-TN then spent several months negotiating with the board to modify the policy so that it no longer infringed on the free exercise rights of people who want to worship regularly in public spaces, using the parks in the same manner that other groups do.

At the October 2009 meeting, the Board of Parks and Recreation approved the ACLU-supported policy, which exempted groups of 25 or less from permit requirements for repetitive use and ensured that the policy was uniform for religious and non-religious groups alike.

Related Documents

Press Releases

ACLU-TN Successfully Advocates on Behalf of Student Preachers (October 7, 2009)

Legal Documents

Demand Letter (April 30, 2009)