City Council Waits to Turn on Parking Meters on Sunday to Help Churches

This is a recurring theme: Parking meters exist to generate revenue for the city, but the city council alters the time the meters are in effect to accommodate local churches.

It’s happened in Chicago and Philadelphia.

Now, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is going after the city council (PDF) in San Luis Obispo, California.

In short, the meters are in operation every day between 9:00a and 6:00p. On Sundays, even though local businesses open at 11:00a, the meters don’t go into effect until 1:00p.

Why?

One reason that Sunday parking was not approved when it was last considered in 2006 was because of opposition by the five churches near, or in the downtown…

The recommendation to begin charging at 11:00 a.m. will still allow for church members to park in nearby structures for as low as $0.75 for two hours, if they exit the structure before 1:00 p.m.

By not pushing the start time back to 11:00a, the city is foregoing $77,724 of revenue (PDF), all on behalf of the churches.

As the FFRF says, this is a violation of the Establishment Clause. It’s not as overt as just handing the church money, but they’re denying taxpayers revenue for the city because they want to accommodate the churches’ wishes. There’s no reason to cave in to the churches’ demands.

To the San Luis Obispo City Council: Turn the meters on at 9:00a like all the other days. Tell the worshipers to take some of their tithing money and put it in the meter slots. Everyone will be just fine and you’ll avoid a lawsuit.

(Thanks to Martin for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

    Tax money and tax breaks can go to religious organizations without falling foul of the Establishment Clause, so long as it’s not the result of the government favoring religion. For example, a state university could provide funding to all valid student organizations, including Campus Crusade for Christ (and the Secular Student Alliance!).

    However, making policy specifically to help out religious organizations is a problem, whether it involves money or not. The parking meters story sounds like an instance of this.

  • guest

    but the break is not only for churchgoers. everyone who shows between 11am and 1pm will get the same advantage….how about not paying at all on weekends?

  • Miko

    It doesn’t sound like they really have a case.

    In any case, a better resolution would be to just get rid of the meters entirely.  The city can make up for the reduction in revenue by cutting its budget for tear gas.

  • nome

    My sister and her wife lives there (as far as I know do NOT got to church) I wonder what the local energy is? 

    • Martin Williams

      SLO is a college town and reasonably liberal.

  • Brian Westley

    The FFRF should determine if there are any people going to synagogues or mosques in the area, which generally meet at times other than Sunday morning.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JTBMQYMFVZMKNCXIMISICQ3Z6E Anonymous

      yup and see if they are given the same accommodation. Great point!

    • Martin Williams

      The synagogue is about 5 miles outside of downtown and the Islamic Society while near downtown is smaller than our group.

  • Michael

    I would suggest they turn them off all day on Sunday. Clearly the businesses open shorter hours so why not encourage more trade with free parking all day?

    • Neil

      That’s how it used to be, I didn’t know it had changed.  Downtown SLO must be getting really busy on Sundays.  Parking downtown has always been an issue, but the city has done a pretty good job of building extra parking structures and  working with what they have.  

      • Michael

        Same here, halfway around the world. UK. Used to be we got free parking on Sundays. Then Sunday trading started to take off and we had to pay. What’s with that? People wanted to trade on Sunday because people had less bother getting a place to park. Come on.

      • Martin Williams

        Now that most of the buildings have gone through earthquake retrofitting there are a lot of new businesses downtown that is attracting people.

  • wompwomp

    If “everyone” is required to pay starting at 11am, the people attending church could still “loop hole” paying the meeter by considering it part tithing, which they can then claim on taxes later..

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

      In other words, they could lie to the IRS, if they itemize.  Which would, if they don’t get caught, save them about a quarter of the meter fees (and none of the overtime parking fines.)

      What this is also about, is about SLO providing extra free parking for churches at the expense of merchants, one day a week.

  • starskeptic

    Didn’t Chicago sell their meters to an outside source? I thought the city council had no control of  them…

  • thomtrue

    ACK ACK ACK!  When will these people learn NOT to support religion with their government?

    Personally, I think all weekend should be free but that is my view. And it isn’t dependent upon a religion either.

    If they just want them free all day, fine, not FOR a religion.

    • Tom

      Dunno how it is elsewhere but, here in the UK, a lot of government operations seem to shut down completely, or run on a skeleton staff, over the weekend – I suppose it would only be fair that, as you’re getting less from them during that time period, you should be paying lower taxes and parking fees and such during that period as well.  Despite all the good that the NHS does, for example, there’s a reason why it’s commonly said in the UK, at least amongst those who can’t afford private health care, that you should hope to never, ever get sick or injured during the weekend.

  • http://billybobsbibleblog.blogspot.com/ billybobbibb

    I don’t think FFRF has a case here.  There’s nothing to stop a Hindu, Muslim or atheist from parking for free on Sunday before 1:00pm.  And while $77K would look pretty sweet in my own bank account, it’s a drop in the bucket for the city budget.

    • Martin Williams

      It is not a drop in the bucket for a city of 55,000 and this is less a matter of who gets to park there for free than a matter of their being free parking primarily for the purpose of church goers.

  • T-Rex

    Get rid of the meters and start taxing those sumbitches instead. Some of us would prefer to not have to make up the shortfall in our government’s  budget due to their exempt status’.

  • http://billybobsbibleblog.blogspot.com/ billybobbibb

    Besides which, this particular fight just makes atheists look angry and spiteful. There are plenty of other examples of egregious religious favoritism that would merit a more solid case.

    • http://profiles.google.com/jinxmchue Jinx McHue

       So… it makes atheists look exactly as they are these days.

      • http://www.facebook.com/sdorst Stan Dorst

        And atheists don’t have reason to be angry? 

        • http://profiles.google.com/jinxmchue Jinx McHue

           Depends.  Are you truly angry about the city “losing” $78k or are you just angry that Christians are getting to park for free on Sundays?  I strongly suspect the latter. 

    • Martin Williams

      Not everyone that opposes the parking is an atheist. At least on church, that is not located downtown, and the majority of businesses oppose this action.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    While we’re all waiting for the Christians to lose their special privileges, I hope that gyms, coffee shops, and other businesses offer early bird specials to Sunday shoppers, so at least the church goers have some competition for those spaces.

  • dwasifar karalahishipoor

    Parking meters shouldn’t be a revenue stream to begin with.  They weren’t intended to be, originally.  They were invented just to keep the spaces in front of downtown businesses turning over frequently, instead of being camped in all day by downtown workers and commuters.  This was for the benefit of the businesses, not the city, which is why the meters originally measured parking in nickels and dimes – pay the tiny charge for the space and leave when you’re done, or get a ticket.  

    It’s also why, when the meters were privatized in Chicago, they became unusable; they weren’t designed to collect large amounts of money.  People wound up not being able to park on their own streets because the meters, designed for a few nickels and dimes per day, were suddenly jammed so full of quarters from people paying the jacked-up rates that they didn’t have room to accept any more coins unless they were emptied almost daily. 

    I agree that christians shouldn’t get a free pass when everyone else has to pay, but the best solution would be just to get rid of these mechanical parasites, or at least scale them back to their original function.

    • http://conuly.dreamwidth.org/ Uly

       You’re arguing that in places like Chicago, with high property values, drivers are entitled to free space in which to park their cars.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jinxmchue Jinx McHue

    lol!  An establishment clause violation?  How so?  Are only Christians benefiting from this procedure?  If not, then there’s no grounds for this complaint.

    • Martin Williams

      The only churches affected are Christian churches. While the meters are off the churches benefit but the remainder of the public loses. Even if I park for free to go to a business the city is still losing parking revenue which pays for road and sidewalk repairs downtown. So, in effect this is preferential treatment for Christian churches. Additionally, only churches were asked their opinion on the matter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628665833 Bill Santagata

    This is not an Establishment Clause violation. “The Constitution does not require complete separation of church and
    state; it affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of
    all religions, and forbids hostility toward any. Anything less would
    require the ‘callous indifference,’ that was never intended by the Establishment Clause” (Lynch v. Donnelly, internal citations ommitted).

    The government can turn its parking meters on and off as it wishes. If it wants to assist people who would already be going to church anyway and make it easier for them to do so, this is not at all forbidden by the Constitution. If, however, they turned off parking meters only in front of Christian churches but kept them on in front of mosques and temples, this would not be a neutral policy in regards to religion,

    • Martin Williams

      They are all turned off downtown. However, the parking garages still charge and there is a parking garage located between 3 of the churches. 

  • The Other Weirdo

    Jesus said to pray in your own closet, privately, away from prying eyes, so as not to appear like those hypocrites over there who proclaim to all and sundry how pious they are. So it shouldn’t cost churchgoers any more on Sunday, since they should be worshipping in their own homes. Oh wait… Yeah.

  • Anonymous

    Special rights are always given to those who get to hide behind religion to get non-profit status, take exemptions, and habd outs from the government aka the tax payers of America

  • Martin Williams

    Thanks for posting this Hemant. This is a big issue in our little area of the world. 

    On another note we are very much looking forward to your visit to Cal Poly in April.


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