Second lawsuit filed over exclusionary Honolulu parade

By admin

Originally published on Advocate.com July 15 2003 11:00 PM ET

In the second lawsuit filed against the city and county of Honolulu over this month's Family Day event, the American Civil Liberties Union accused the city of reserving entertainment at the event for "fundamentalist Christians." The suit filed in circuit court Monday seeks an injunction ordering an
account of the city's spending on the event and a halt to similar celebrations in the future. It follows a pending lawsuit filed in district court earlier this month by the ACLU on behalf of three gay groups after their applications to march in the July 5 parade were refused.

The ACLU filed the second suit on behalf of a range of Honolulu residents--all of whom thought the Family Day festivities crossed the church-state line. The plaintiffs cited a musical segment of Family Day that included nine separate performances by Christian groups, while children's entertainment at the Keiki Stage in Kapiolani Park had a stated purpose to "save souls."

In its suit the ACLU claims the city did not allow equal access for all organizations to perform in Family Day events and instead invited select groups to provide entertainment. ACLU legal director Brent White said the city's actions are part of a "broader policy and practice of using city events...to provide certain
religious groups special access to large audiences [so] they can spread their message. This mixing of government with religion is forbidden by the Constitution."

The Reverend Vaughn Beckham, a senior minister at the First Christian Church and a plaintiff in the suit, said he is concerned that the city "violated the principle of separation of church and state by using Family Day to promote the fundamentalist religious beliefs of one segment of our society to the exclusion of all others."

The city's attorney, Greg Swartz, issued a statement denying the suit's charges. "The city believes that it conducted the Family Day festival in an appropriate manner and that further litigation by the ACLU would be a waste of taxpayer moneys and the court's time and resources," the statement said.

The city cosponsored Family Day with the Hawaii Christian Coalition. In response to the first lawsuit, organizers claimed the parade was independently organized by the coalition and therefore was a private event. But the plaintiffs claimed that because the city provided support to the coalition, the parade should have been open to all. The court ruled in favor of the city, denying the ACLU's request for an order to allow members of The Center; the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Family Network; and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays to march.