Local Level

We begin at the local level, with events surrounding a public housing development in New York City in the wake of September 11. Following the terrorist attacks, the American people forged a stronger bond than any in recent memory. In seeking to help the people in New York City deal with their shock and grief, many religious leaders came forward to offer spiritual guidance, counseling, and assistance. Pastor Joan Daily, a longtime resident of a public housing development in Woodside in Queens, New York, sought permission from the New York City Housing Authority to rent a room at the Woodside Community Center to conduct a Bible study and prayer meeting for aggrieved city residents. Several Woodside residents died in the terrorist attacks. Though the facility is routinely used by various groups for a wide range of purposes, from exercise classes to adult education, the Authority denied the pastor's request. Officials cited a city policy prohibiting "religious services, unless the religious services are directly connected to the principal reason for a family-oriented event, such as weddings." The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed a federal lawsuit against the Authority on behalf of Pastor Daily for denying her access to the facility on the basis of religious speech. The Authority would have been on firmer legal grounds had it denied access to other groups, but to deny groups to meet on public property merely because their meeting is religious in nature is a denial of their religious freedom.

The separation principle reached new heights of absurdity when Johnie Heard, a resident of a government-subsidized apartment in the Detroit area, placed a sign in her window proclaiming "24-Hr. Prayer Station." Heard said the Lord directed her to display the sign to make people aware of her apartment, where she plays sermons continuously on a tape-recorded loop to welcome all lost souls. Upon learning of the prayer invitation sign, officials from the city of Taylor, which owned the apartment, sent Heard an eviction notice, ostensibly for violating the apartment complex's ban on signs. "We're not anti-religious at all," said Albert Berriz, the head of McKinley Properties, which manages the complex. "But the things you put in the windows may be offensive to others. There could be Jewish families, African-American families, atheists, or Kiwanis who have different views. We need rules of consistency so we don't have three hundred signs advertising three hundred different things." McKinley finally backed down on its eviction efforts when Liberty Counsel intervened on behalf of Heard. Following the incident, Heard said, "At times, I said, 'Lord, did I hear you right? You sure you want me to put up this sign?' But one thing about the Lord is that if you stand up for Him, He'll stand up for you against your enemies."

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