Church to Sue Washington State After Public Baptism Permit is Denied

An Olympia church may sue the state after the Department of General Administration refused to grant a permit to its church members to hold a baptism on the capital campus.

The Department of General Administration (GA) denied the request on Friday of Paul Jones, Pastor of Reality Church of Olympia, who asked for the permit to hold a Sunday “picnic and baptism.”

American Center for Law & Justice’ spokesman, Gene Kapp, who represents the church in appealing its permit denial, and has declared that “while the state agreed to permit the barbeque to move forward, it rejected the request for the baptism to take place.”

He added: “The denial of the Baptism ceremony represents a violation of our client's constitutional rights protected by the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment. We're disappointed that the state failed to permit our client to fully exercise his constitutional rights.”

On the church’s behalf, the American Center for Law and Justice has already filed an appeal with the state however it was immediately rejected.

Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ’s attorney believes that Christians are being treated as second-class citizens.

“They’re basically saying the barbecue is fine – but you can’t baptize anyone,” Sekulow told Fox News Radio.

However, GA acting director Jane Rushford justified declining the church’s request, saying the application was a violation of the state constitution.

“We approved their permit for the barbecue, but our state constitution does not allow public grounds or funds to be used for religious ceremonies so we got advice from our attorney general’s office and we denied their permit for the baptism,” GA spokesman Steve Valandra has said.

Rules do not allow private religious displays inside Capital Campus buildings, and this has been the case since a moratorium was made in December 2008, which came following displays by atheists, Christians, Jews.

However, other events of religious exercise have been permitted since then; a prayer rally was permitted near the campus’ Tivoli Fountain in 2009.

According to Erskine, another GA spokesman, there is a slight difference between the free expression of religious views, which is protected by the First Amendment, and the exercise of religion, which is not supported by public resources under the state Constitution.

“There is a fine line. It can be hard to establish that. That is something I think the courts have struggled with,” Erskine said. “We have to review each permit request very carefully, look at what they are trying to do and take it on a case by case basis in consultation with the Attorney General’s Office.’’

Sekulow insists that they cannot ban religious groups from being able to access the grounds and holding events such as baptisms there.

“Who is the state to decide what is worship and what isn’t,” he asked.