After Delaware City Nixes Weekly Church Service on Public Beach, Defiant Pastor Says He’ll Preach There Anyway

When pastor Robert Dekker of Lewes, Delaware decided it would be a neat idea to hold weekly church services on the public beach of nearby Rehoboth, the well-informed city manager rejected the plan. Rehoboth Beach may not issue such a permit, the manager wrote to Dekker, because that would run afoul of the Constitution:

“I am so sorry to inform you that I cannot grant your request to have church services on the public beach in Rehoboth. I cannot mix Church and State. I trust you understand. Wishing you the very best.”

I listened to a couple of radio interviews that the piqued pastor subsequently did (WXDE-FM, Glenn Beck), and his responses are bursting with fork-tongued passive-aggressiveness.

For instance, Dekker keeps stressing that he’s not a “mean” or “nasty” person and that he really likes the folks at city hall — apparently forgetting that he’s been distributing a flyer that accuses them of nothing less than tyranny.

He invokes Jesus’ peacemaking to describe the love that’s in his own heart, and yet implicitly connects Rehoboth Beach’s executive staff to World War II nazism — three times.

He says he wanted to have 8:00a weekly sermons to minimize traffic disruptions, then announces an illegal mid-morning beach service on what may well be Rehoboth’s busiest day of the year. (I’ve been there half a dozen times — the place can get crowded.)

Yeah, you heard right — despite not having a permit, the good reverend is going to turn a stretch of public beach into an open-air church anyway.

Robert Dekker

The deliberate lawbreaking is pretty remarkable in its own right, but two further things about his defense of the “Line in the Sand” rally strike me as opprobrious.

One is the assertion that he’s being silenced:

God has called me to preach the gospel, preach the good news. … To put a muzzle on my mouth and say that I can’t speak about Jesus is disheartening to ponder.

Really? What I find “disheartening to ponder” is that Dekker resorts to playing the gagged-victim card when he’s clearly got his very own church to hold as many religious services as he pleases. In fact, he is welcome to do the same on any property whose owner allows it. Does that meet your definition of being muzzled?

As for public property, he’s got rights there, too, just like you and I do: He may pass out flyers, or try to engage strangers in conversations about Jesus (not that they have to listen to him!), or walk around dawn to dusk with a sandwich board praising his deity of choice.

It’s true that holding an actual church service on city property would be just as ill-advised as installing a nativity scene there. The courts don’t allow it.

Is that censorship? Tyranny? Please.

The other thing that irked me is this bit of sophistry:

My dad lived in the Netherlands and endured some of the occupation stuff, and when he became an American and transformed from an immigrant to citizen, there were some neat things that America had that he longed for, and some of those freedoms are — to be able to worship God.

I happen to be an immigrant to America myself. Like Dekker’s dad, I was born, raised, and educated in the Netherlands. The son’s implication that his father wasn’t free to practice his religion until he came to the U.S. is pure hokum. Though my country of origin started seriously secularizing in the sixties, religious freedom is hardly under attack in Holland even today. Except for the German occupation, when Jews had to live in constant fear of their lives, it never was. To argue otherwise is to dismiss the historical evidence.

That Christians twist themselves into pretzels to construct some persecution narrative is one of the least attractive features of their faith — right next to their propensity to claim the public sphere as if it is their private theater, exhibition space, and canvas.

I see the elder Dekker’s ostensible reason for emigration from Holland, and I raise him one: I came here, among other things, to bask in a Constitution that, far from pushing gods down my gullet, allows me to be free from government-sponsored religion.

At least, that’s the idea(l) — one that’s worth defending against the creeping swell of Christian privilege.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • pierre

    I like how the flyer explicitly states: “The City Manager stated it would be in violation of separation of church and state.”

    Well there’s your problem. Reality.

  • Sweetredtele

    Too bad fireworks are illegal there. I’d personally donate a few bricks of Black Cats for someone to celebrate the holiday right next to his sermon.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

      I could donate too. I still have half a brick left.

  • Jasper

    Frankly, if he had just told his congregation “Hey, let’s go to the beach and I’ll stand up in front of you while you sit on the sand and I’ll preach at you”, I don’t know what the problem would be… as long as it’s not interfering with other people at the beach, and you aren’t trying to push people around.

    I don’t know how this would be different than a family going to the beach to enjoy the scenery while discussing family matters.

    • Jasper

      I guess my question is about what the permit adds to the situation.. what is the permit for, exactly?

      • Ders

        Probably to be able to use a PA system and clear off a sizable portion for themselves.

      • Gus Snarp

        One usually has to get a permit any time one is going to have a large public gathering that takes up a substantial portion of a public facility. If 50 people show up and listen to this guy preach, then that’s a significant amount of beach that’s suddenly inaccessible to the regular individual member of the beach going public. Plus, as Ders noted, the likelihood is that there would be a PA system and some kind of attempt to rope off the area to prevent people from wandering through or throwing a frisbee through the congregation.

        Man, PA system or not, can you imagine how annoying it would be to show up for a pleasant day at the beach to suddenly have some preacher spewing hellfire and brimstone yards away from your carefully chosen blanket spot? Sure, you could move, but if the beach is crowded and you showed up early to make sure you had a good spot, that would really suck.

        • Blacksheep

          Excellent point. I love the beach – I would vote for no public assemblies at all on the beach between memorial Day and labor day. How rare is it to acyually have a day to enjoy the beach? Even loud music can ruin it.

      • Len

        The permit is for publicity – because he knew he’d be turned down, for exactly the reason he mentions on the flyer. It provides proof of persecution(TM).

    • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com/ D’Ma

      My husband and I got married in a city courtyard. It was a small wedding, maybe 30 people. We had to get a permit even if was only going to be us and the officiant. Reason being; any assembly held on city property requires a permit from the city, not to vet the activity, but to prove to other citizens that you have a legitimate cause and right assemble there. There was no charge for the permit. Not only that, I had to sign a waiver saying that we would hold harmless the city in the case of any accident or injury. They are basically covering themselves so Sally doesn’t twist her ankle and sue the city. I’d guess if I was asking for weekly permission to assemble there the process would be a bit different. And I would probably be denied.

  • Ders

    Seems like a good time to throw a huge atheist party in the immediate vicinity. When I was in college I lived in a house that was across from a corner that was frequented by sidewalk preachers. Once in a blue moon they would use a megaphone, and it was easily audible inside our house. Whenever this happened, we would put our party speakers on the front porch and blare Marilyn Manson straight at the preacher. One time, the preacher actually called the police. We convinced the officer that if we got a noise violation, the preacher should too. He agreed. Moral of the story: there are other laws this dude may break.

  • Intelligent Donkey

    But of course Christians are being persecuted. It’s written right there in the Holey Bible!

    I’m being persecuted, because the Bible tells me so!

  • Gus Snarp

    Interesting. At first blush I thought it made no sense to claim a separation of church and state issue. Assuming permits for public gatherings on the beach are issued fairly routinely, then there’s no reason that an individual wishing to hold a religious service should be denied that permit on church/state grounds. But towards the end you suggest that the pastor actually planned a weekly service, and that seems much more of a church/state issue. [EDIT: I guess it said weekly right from the headline and I just missed that bit on first reading somehow.] It would essentially cause a section of beach to be basically treated as a church.

    But whichever way the church/state issue might be viewed, the persecution complex demonstrated by the pastor is utterly typical, and despicable.

    • 3lemenope

      Yeah, I’m actually struggling to see any actual legal issues at all pertaining to Church/State separation. Permits for large gatherings, by law, must be issued on a content neutral basis; if someone wants a permit for a weekly event, and you’d otherwise grant it, you can’t suddenly not grant it because the petitioner happens to be a church. If it were a spontaneous gathering, even of the size being discussed, there would be no question whatsoever it would fall under freedom of assembly and a permit would not even be required (not even be allowed to be required, actually).

      But the guy’s response is two screws short of a hardware store. It’s like the funhouse mirror response to the secular community being up in arms because an atheist woman’s petition for citizenship was held up because some bureaucrat didn’t get the memo on how the C.O. rules work. Likewise, this city manager seems to be a bit overzealous and inaccurate in his understanding of exactly to what extent church-state separation operates, but I sincerely doubt he’s out to get the church or anything similar. He just didn’t get the memo.

      • Gus Snarp

        Yeah, the correct response is to send a properly worded letter of complaint to the city manager, preferably penned by a lawyer familiar with relevant precedents to get him to change his mind, and to sue the city if that fails. Which is, of course, what atheist groups do when their rights are violated. This guy would rather take his case to right-wing hate radio than to the courts where it belongs.

      • Monika Jankun-Kelly

        The bureaucrat followed the rules regarding C.O. The rules say no C.O. status for stinky atheists, you need a religious reason. Mrs. Doughty was granted citizenship because they made an exception for her after a lawmaker asked them to. They never actually changed the law, so atheists can still legally be denied C.O. status.

        • 3lemenope

          The rules do not say that. The courts have been crystal clear on this point since at least 1965 [United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 (1965)].

  • Baby_Raptor

    Man, can you imagine the outrage if a Muslim did this?

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    Unfortunately, I think the law is on the pastor’s side. If other groups are allowed to have gatherings on public beach in Rehoboth, then the church should also.

    However, if the city doesn’t allow other simular meetings, then the church is shit out of luck.

    • Stev84

      As noted above, he seems to want to hold regular meetings/services there.

      If this were a one-time thing, then sure. It could be treated like a party on the beach or something. But he basically wants to hold scheduled services there every single week. That’s very problematic and you would never be allowed to hold weekly parties there either.

      Dismissing it with “church/state” is simplistic (and he should have clarified that), but that’s kind of what it boils down to. He wouldn’t get a permit for a weekly event under normal circumstances, and being a church doesn’t give them any special privileges to get one.

    • Atheistiana

      “If other RELIGIOUS groups are allowed to have gatherings on public beach in Rehoboth, then the church should also.” There, fixed it for you.
      The distinction is the religious part… if the beach is owned by the city, it is city property and is subject to the laws.

  • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com/ D’Ma

    This is my question: Are other groups granted a permit to assemble on the
    public beach in that manner? On the one hand, if so, I see no way the
    city manager can deny a request from this pastor/church.

    On the other hand, he is requesting weekly access, not
    a one-time assembly. Would other groups be allowed to basically cordon
    off a section of the beach and, probably with a PA system, have a
    weekly assembly. Seems like it would potentially run off beach goers,
    regardless of the group. I can see where that might also run into a
    church/state issue. It would appear by granting weekly access that the
    city was endorsing that particular church/religion.

    My guess would be that this church would be screaming to the top of their lungs: “No can do! Separation of church and state!”, if this were a Muslim, Hindu, or Jehova’s Witness, or other religious assembly that they did not deem Christian.

    • 7Footpiper

      And of course, with all of those churches competing for souls you’d be taking away the true meaning of “beach”.

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com/ D’Ma

        Exactly. When I go to the beach it’s to relax. That doesn’t sound very relaxing, does it?

        • 3lemenope

          Clearly, not everyone goes to the beach to relax.

          • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com/ D’Ma

            Clearly. And, arguably, worshiping at the beach might be relaxing to those who choose to do so. Even if they are disturbing my relaxation. Wait. The world doesn’t revolve around me? /sarcasm

            I’m thinking that the purpose of holding these services at the beach is precisely to proselytize, though. That’s typically the purpose when a) the church already has a designated meeting facility and b) they are actively seeking to preach in a public place.

            If he wants to be defiant about it, though, wouldn’t it be better to make up a bunch of sandwich boards and have himself and the church members outfitted in them handing out tracts once a week instead of preaching? That would be within the law and, yet, infinitely more annoying.

            • Mechaniacal

              Your point about the proselytization – it reminds me of the giant Revival Tents we have here in the south.

              • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com/ D’Ma

                Being from the south, myself, I can relate. Not only do we have those, but we also get the occasional guy on the corner sidewalk holding up his Bible and yelling to the top of his lungs, “Hell is hot and Jesus saves”. It’s a spectacle to behold. Yesterday in our town we had this guy:

                • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com/ D’Ma

                  Point being: Religious voices, particularly Christian voices, are not being silenced, even if city officials are a little confused from time to time about church/state separation.

  • JWH

    The city manager is completely wrong. If other groups have access to a particular piece of public property (beaches, etc.) for permitted gatherings, then as a general rule, religious groups should have the same access to permits. Conducting a church service on the land (i.e., a gathering) does not implicate the separation of church and state. Rather, if the city grants a permit for other groups to hold gatherings there, then refuses to grant a similar permit to a religious group, then the city discriminates against religious groups.

    That said, there is ample reason to deny a permit. If the church seeks to hold regular weekly gatherings on the beach, then on a weekly basis that church would deprive access and/or use of that portion of the beach to other beachgoers. That, IMO, is a valid reason to deny the permit.

    • Makoto

      I’m curious about the reasoning on the first part of your statement. I mean, religious groups do have certain rights and responsibilities (tax free status, no supporting political figures from the pulpit, for examples). I’m obviously no lawyer, but it does seem possible that the law is on the manager’s side in general, and he likely knows more about this than we do.

      • JWH

        Check Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union School District.

  • Gus Snarp

    Is there no source for further details on this other than right-wing hate radio and websites?

  • Rain

    God has called me to preach the gospel, preach the good news

    Oh aren’t you special! Maybe you should try putting in your flier you wanted weekly sermons and not just “a sermon”. Also try contesting the decision.

  • rwlawoffice

    Simply based upon what we know from the article, the law is on the pastor’s side and the city manager is wrong. As others have said, if the city allows others to use the beach, it cannot exclude religious organizations from use. A recent case in the New York school system proves this point. The school system tried to prevent churches from using school buildings for services and they were ordered to allow it. The argument the school system used was separation of church and state and it was rejected.

    • 3lemenope

      Color me perplexed about the four down votes.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        No. I just don’t trust that douchenozzle.

        • 3lemenope

          I giggled guiltily. So, upvote.

      • TCC

        One-word explanation: Tribalism. (Also, I predict that this comment will be down-voted.)

      • Noelle

        I don’t get the Discqus voting system either. Here, I’ll upvote everyone in this little nook, just ’cause.

        Edit: and done.

    • rhodent

      There are a couple of issues here that could put the law on the city manager’s side:

      1. You said that if the city allows others to use the beach then it must let the church do so. But it’s not quite as simple as that: It only applies if the city lets others use the beach in the same way. In other words, letting other organizations use the beach for a one-time event means the city can’t deny the church the right to use the beach for a one-time event, but it does not mean the city can’t deny the church the right to use the beach on a weekly basis. The church would need to prove that other groups get to use the beach on a weekly basis.

      2. There is a key distinction between a school building and a public beach. The school building is closed to the public on Sundays, meaning that granting any group (including the church) access to use it does not deny anyone else the use of the school building. But granting the church access to use the public beach does deny others the use of the beach (or at least the use of the portion the church is using).

      • Rain

        It’s not exactly clear that he wanted weekly services because in his flier he’s lying his tail off. But I think he wanted eight weeks. That’s what The Blaze says anyway.

        • Terry Firma

          It’s what the pastor says in the radio interviews I conveniently linked to for you. ;-)

          • Rain

            Thank you very much! Didn’t hear the interviews yet. (Turns out Glenn Beck has a transcript on his page though.)

    • Blacksheep

      Why does an opinion based on fact (or better yet – just a reporting of the facts) get down votes??? I picture a toddler saying “NO!” and clicking the down vote arrow.

      • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

        Top 10 reasons why you might be getting down-voted:

        1) Rwlawoffice is a troll. Don’t be a troll.

        2) This is an Atheist blog, promoting religious rights will get you down-voted.

        3)This is an Atheist blog, promoting religion will get you down-voted.

        4) Most commentators here function under group think, go against the group you will get down-voted.

        5) Preaching prejudices, bigotry, ableist mantras, or any form of discrimination will get you down-voted.

        6) If you are going to use facts then be factual and expect us to look up those facts, otherwise you are going to get down-voted.

        7) Using scripture to support your facts is not being factual. It would be akin to using Harry Potter to support facts on flying.

        8) No true idiots use ad hominems. Doing so will get you down-voted.

        9) Cross posting will get you down-voted.

        Edited 7/2/13 12:30 pm pst

        10) Blacksheep as far as I can tell, historically you act like a troll. Some of us will down-vote you out of spite.

        My apologies. Perhaps that was too harsh. See following quote for the persuasive argument against my harshness.

        @cary_w You really need to change number 10. While it’s true Blacksheep often defends religion, s/he at least tries to justify his/her arguments and does not engage in troll-like behavior. Honestly, I think s/he is a Christian who is in the processs of questioning his/her faith and will eventually see the light and become one of us, you should be nicer to him/her!

        Humility what a concept.

        • Blacksheep

          Most of what you are saying I get – (even though the above post is pretty much factual) but you are way off on #10. I’ve been posting here for years, and yesterday / today is the time that I’ve seen you or conversed with you… your history is wrong. I would appreciate someone backing me up on this.

          • Blacksheep

            Sorry – meant to say “FIRST time…”

        • 3lemenope

          Rwlawoffice is a troll. Don’t be a troll.

          Only if one’s definition of ‘troll’ approximates “person who stubbornly disagrees with me despite me being obviously right, like, all the time.”

          This is an Atheist blog, promoting religious rights will get you down-voted.

          Last I checked, most atheists believe in freedom of religion, including the freedom for religious institutions to generally do what secular institutions do (buy and sell property, maintain meeting space, use public property for publicly accessible ends, etc.).

          This is an Atheist blog, promoting religion will get you down-voted.

          Did that happen?

          Blacksheep as far as I can tell, historically you act like a troll. Some of us will down-vote you out of spite.

          See top of post.

          • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

            I did write “might” so can you honestly frame what I wrote as an absolute?

            I could have written “Top ten reasons you are getting down-voted.” That would be speaking in absolutes.

            Even if rwlawoffic is 100% factually correct he disagrees consistently with everyone here and that is trolling.

            Do you regularly go to theistic blogs an point out the flaws in their arguments? I don’t, it’s a matter of principle, let them have their delusions, I disagree in condoning that behavior here. But despite all that you are correct most Atheists respect the free exercise of religious expression. But on the other-hand you completely dodged my theory of group think. Personally if I were writing a theistic blog I would find it annoying to be constantly defending my opinions. Can I stop it? No. Given an option to down-vote it well I’ll do that and possibly write a rebuttal. Do I flag a post as inappropriate? The answer is never, because I will vehemently defend a persons right to express their opinion. Public discussion is a learning experience. Learning how to read critically is a great skill to have.

            • 3lemenope

              Even if rwlawoffice is 100% factually correct he disagrees consistently with everyone here and that is trolling.

              That is an incredibly stupid definition of “troll”. Functionally no different, in fact, than the one I satirically provided as being necessary to support your point, such as it is.

              Where do you get the impression, exactly, that I was treating your list as exhaustive and absolute?

              • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ TBJ

                The usage of the term “troll” depends a lot upon the readers opinion. You “might” think rwlawoffice’s comments are adding to the discussion and in turn I see them as subtracting and as attempts to derail the conversation.

                I didn’t think you were accusing me of being absolute. I just wanted to reiterate my position that I was presenting a possible reason as to why people get down voted and I wanted that to be clearer for the reader.

                Since the inferred context of this particular blog post is Freedom of Speech, I certainly don’t want to be accused of stifling that.

                I guess I missed the satire.

                • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ TBJ

                  In the words of my father, “I’ll be damned if I have to write out a two hundred paged treatise defining exactly what I mean when I say ‘Flushing the toilet after you take a poop leads to improved sanitary conditions.’ Just flush the god damn toilet already!”

          • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

            Nuh, rwlawoffice is a troll, through and through.

            • Anna

              I really don’t think Robert W. is a troll. He’s been here for years, and he doesn’t post just to inflame or provoke people. I think that’s the definition of “trolling.” He’s a fundamentalist, so of course we’re going to disagree with what he says, but he is always civil and polite. He doesn’t insult people, and he’s willing to have an actual back-and-forth conversation. I find his beliefs to be terrible, but I don’t have any complaints about his behavior on this blog.

          • Stev84

            Rwlawoffice is not “right all time”. :rolleyes:

            It’s the exact opposite actually. 99% of what he posts is pure nonsense. And responding to him tends to completely derail the thread. For example he has a tendency to turn everything into a debate about abortion if given the chance. That’s textbook troll behavior.

            • 3lemenope

              Read what I wrote a bit more carefully. I’m not saying what you think I am.

              • Stev84

                Ok, sorry, then I retract the first sentence. He is still a troll who posts little but bullshit.

                • 3lemenope

                  On that, reasonable people can disagree. :)

                • Stev84

                  Btw, he wasn’t right as you claimed. The NY school case he cited (which was wrongly decided in any case IMO) can be clearly distinguished from what happened here. Being able to rent or use rooms in schools when they are not in use is very different from getting a permit to use a public beach when others are there at the same time.

                • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ TBJ

                  Finally someone points out that distinction.

                • 3lemenope

                  Rhodent pointed out the distinction about six hours ago.

                • 3lemenope

                  Yeah, it’s more analogous to a public park, which they clearly can already use. So his case wasn’t precisely on-point (though it does illustrate the general principle very well), but the relevant distinctions don’t change the probable result.

                  EDIT: I’m curious what your reasoning would be wrt: the NY case being wrongly decided.

            • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ TBJ

              despite me being

              He got me on that one too. I think most people would miss it until they read it out slowly.

              • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ TBJ

                Had he written it out with a comma after “approximates” and then used “A person…” I think it is possible that my unconscious mind would have interpreted the information as grammatically correct, but instead it got stuck on that and then proceeded to translate the remaining information in error. Reading humor is far more complicated than hearing it.

        • cary_w

          You really need to change number 10. While it’s true Blacksheep often defends religion, s/he at least tries to justify his/her arguments and does not engage in troll-like behavior. Honestly, I think s/he is a Christian who is in the processs of questioning his/her faith and will eventually see the light and become one of us, you should be nicer to him/her!

          Number 10 should be that some of us are typing this on phones or iPads, so one little slip of the finger and, whoops!, I just accidentally down-voted someone!

          • Blacksheep

            Thank you cary_w!

            (it’s a him).

          • Anna

            I have noticed a kinder, gentler Blacksheep recently! Maybe we’re having some effect on him, LOL.

        • Blacksheep

          Thanks TBD.

          You still got downvoted for some reason…

      • Sweetredtele

        Facts get downvoted all the time. On some blogs (mostly Christian and Woo) they get removed/blocked and sometimes the person blocked/banned. Pretty light treatment here.

        Edit: See? I stated facts and got downvoted.

  • Blacksheep

    I always thought that anyone could “stand on a soap box” and speak about anything in a public space.

    • Artor

      Sure, but they can’t reserve a section of a public beach for their own sectarian use. I wonder how well the sermon will go when there’s beachballs and frisbees flying past the pastor.

      • 3lemenope

        Uh, sure they can. What would lead you to you think they can’t? They can use a school, a gazebo, or a park. A beach would be no different.

      • MrNeedtoKnow

        What about humanitarian aid charity event? Can someone reserve a section of a public beach?

        • Artor

          For 8 weeks running all summer? I doubt it.

      • Blacksheep

        Can he be just offshore, in a boat?

        • 3lemenope

          The local Boy Scout camp’s pastor does exactly this (or at least did thirteen years ago when my roommate was an Eagle Scout).

    • siveambrai

      Additionally the government reserves the right to require permits or other organizational items from individuals who wish to use public space for free speech. Part of this is to help offset fees but the other is to make sure that the space stays free and open for everyone else to use as well.

    • 3lemenope

      There is a sharp distinction between there being rules and the actual enforceability of those rules.

      Most municipalities maintain permit regulations that are flatly unconstitutional in their restrictiveness. And they know this. Most people, nonetheless, believing they need permission, will seek it anyway. When the issue is forced by the rare person who knows they don’t need permission before speaking or creating an impromptu assembly, it is very rare for the municipality to actually attempt to enforce the permit, because of the very real chance that the entire permit scheme would be tossed by the court.

    • MrNeedtoKnow

      Yes, except religion, some people (the minority of them aka the few) get offended. You can speak about overthrowing the government, you can have the KKK with their foul racist hearts speak out, but there is no freedom of speech for religion. They want you to do in private.

    • Blacksheep

      Not that it matters – but how the heck does this comment get two down votes???

      It’s funny!

      • 3lemenope

        Some people are Dove fans. They don’t do soap boxes.

  • baal

    Most administrative decisions are subject to appeal and review. The pastor could have (probably still can) take the matter up a level.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    Yep, that is exactly what people swimming and celebrating the 4th of July want at the beach: a church sermon taking up valuable beach space. How many other groups want to cordon off a section of the beach every week and using a PA system broadcast onto the beach?

    • 3lemenope

      I work a two minute walk away from the town beach. The answer to your question, roughly speaking, is everyone.

    • MrNeedtoKnow

      What if another group wants to have some beach space for humanitarian charity event? Is this humanitarian group taking up “valuable beach space”? You are saying that the church group will be using the PA system broadcast onto the beach, where did it say that in the article. I read the article 3 times and I didn’t see this fabrication of yours on there. READ AND THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK.

      • Sweetredtele

        Is it a religious humanitarian event? Will there be preaching? Im just curious if you think churches don’t have humanitarian events.

      • Raising_Rlyeh

        Will they be holding a charity event every week at the same location? I am guessing that they will be using some sort of audio broadcasting equipment to make sure that everyone can hear them.

  • Lori F

    I’m thinking super soakers, and lots of tiny bathing suits. don’t forget the Frisbees and dogs and crying babies.
    If this jerk had just wanted the 1 time service [but for what purpose? baptisms ?] he would have gotten permission. But weekly service? Bet he also doesn’t think he should pay for that either.

    • Stev84

      Just turn it into a nude beach while they’re there

  • Matt D

    I used to think of them as children out of spite, but they don’t need to prove me right by having tantrums when they don’t get their way.

  • frankbellamy

    Terry Firma is actually wrong on the law here, as is the city manager I’m pretty sure. I can think of any number of supreme court cases where the court has said that religious speech should be treated just like all other speech, no better, no worse. The reason the city manager cited, separation of church and state, simply doesn’t require a religious group to be denied a permit where a nonreligious group would have been granted one. The case closest to this one that I can think of is Widmar v Vincent, which was basically the same facts at a public university. The court said that where other groups are allowed to meet, the religious group must be allowed to meet too. And that seems perfectly fair to me.

    There may be some other legitimate reason for denying a permit. Maybe the city doesn’t give anyone a permit on days where it is particularly busy, like July 4. Maybe the city doesn’t give anyone a permit for weekly meetings. Maybe the city doesn’t give anyone a permit to use a PA system on that beach. Any of those, if true, would be a valid reason to deny the permit. So long as the churches request for a permit is being evaluated according to the same standards as anyone else, if those standards lead to a denial of a permit, then that’s that. But apply a different standard to a church service than they would to any other gathering is a violation of the freedom of speech, and not at all required by the separation of church and state.

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ TBJ
    • Erp

      It seems the pastor originally wanted the Bandstand which is not available for private use (the town chooses music groups from amongst those that apply). As far as I can see there are no permits for the beach for private groups which means the pastor is free to compete with everyone else heading to the beach on a nice summer Sunday. I suspect there may be times when the city has a special event with part of the beach restricted but in those cases the city is endorsing the event (e.g., sandcastle competition).

      The beach does have an Easter sunrise service but that is by the local churches and I’m not sure they request special permission (not much competition at dawn on a March/April Sunday in Delaware).

      A letter at the above site pointed out that he apparently has congregants with private beach property so can hold his service on their property without having to compete with the hordes.

      • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ TBJ

        I would not be surprised if the pastor knew or was betting he would be denied, betting on a sympathetic response from the christian community. The city manager seems pretty adamant about keeping things separated but the pastor believes he has a historical right neither side is is correct or wrong and public access laws/ordinances are murky waters to wade through in cases such as this. Freedom of expression requires a responsibility to account for and vet other peoples concepts of infringement. Unless the rule of the land is Cronyism.

        • Erp

          I’ve looked through a fair bit of the Rehoboth Beach city code and found nothing about permits for using the beach (there is a whole section of the code just covering ordinances for the beach). The closest are

          1. Licenses to be a vendor on the beach.

          2. Citywide, permits for sound amplification (and btw “Use of bells, chimes or sound amplifiers by existing
          and future churches engaged in religious activities” are specifically exempt from the noise regulations, but, I suspect that ‘church’ here means the building not a congregation meeting away from their building [I also await the first mosque in Rehoboth Beach with its call for prayer]). My guess is that, in deference to religious sensibilities (and people wanting to sleep in), that no permits for sound amplification are issued for Sunday mornings; “shall not unreasonably disturb the peace and quiet of any neighborhood or of the citizens”.

          3. Use of the Bandstand but that is only for city selected musical groups to entertain the general public; it is not something that can be rented or reserved. I suspect a gospel music concert would be fine but no sermons or speeches (barring perhaps civic ceremonies such as on July 4, Memorial day, Veterans day).

          As far as I can see the pastor can hold the service on the beach (as long as it is after sunrise) but can’t use amplification. He also has to compete with everyone else for beach space (just as any other group has to). He also apparently won’t be able to give communion wine (open containers in public prohibited) though I’m not sure whether his denomination uses wine or grape juice (the code has an exemption for giving communion wine to a minor but only within a “house of worship”; there is not church exemption for the open container rule)

          • Terry Firma

            Good stuff Erp, thank you for sharing.

  • http://scoop.it/t/secular-curated-news-views Secular Antitheist Liberal

    Since xians insist on turning our secular public spaces into their superstitious church we need to turn their churches into reason zones with our demonstrations & protests. http://sco.lt/5plsAb

  • Joel

    Everyone……… TURN YOUR RADIOS ALL THE WAY UP!!!!!

  • http://bearlyatheist.wordpress.com/ Bear Millotts

    Rehoboth Beach is a nice place. I’ve been there many times. I feel for the folks just wanting a nice time while this dillweed obnoxiously preaches.

  • Qwertyy650

    Have you seen Rehoboth Beach (the actual beach) in summer? It is wall to wall people, every single day. Difficult to walk anywhere without stepping on someone’s towel or hitting umbrellas. When they have their sandcastle building contests, you can’t even see them – I go the following morning, before the crowds, to see them.

    I may have to go down there on the 4th just to see this!

    • Terry Firma

      If you do, give us your account, OK? E-mail me at terryxfirma AT gmail DOT com. We may do a follow-up piece.

  • Melissa

    Various Pagan spiritual groups across the country regularly request permits to gather in public places for a myriad of events (that are almost always open to the public) that are either festivals or public rituals, and they are rarely denied their permits. This is no different. They should be allowed to assemble – provided the council grants permits equally to other religious groups that request them.

  • SeekerLancer

    I imagine they do this because Rehoboth Beach is locally known as a “gay beach.” Not my words, but what I hear from others in relation to the place.

    Regardless of that unrelated rumor it’s not their beach. Their freedom isn’t being infringed upon and if they want to preach a sermon they should do it in a church or get their own private beach.


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