In The Public Arena

Balch Springs Senior Center

May 11th, 2012


Barney-TX-WWII-Memorial | Liberty Institute

Background

  • For many years, senior citizens at the Balch Springs Senior Center in Texas used their facility for many different programs and recreational events. A group of these seniors also gathered at the center to sing gospel songs and hear inspirational messages from a retired pastor. Some seniors also quietly prayed when they received meals.
  • In August 2003, everything changed when the city enacted a new policy and told the seniors they were no longer able to pray before meals, listen to gospel music or bring in religious speakers. These activities had previously been run by the seniors themselves with no involvement from the city, and all activities and programs were voluntary – no one was coerced into praying, singing or attending.

Current Status

  • Liberty Institute jumped to the defense of the seniors and their First Amendment rights. Initially, attorneys drafted a letter to the city asking it to reverse the policy or face a potential lawsuit for denying the seniors their constitutional rights.
  • The city ignored the letter, and Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit against the city of Balch Springs for multiple violations of the Texas and U.S. Constitutions.

Ultimately, as a result of the lawsuit, in January 2004, the city stipulated to a Final Judgment, revoking its unconstitutional policy. In addition, the Court awarded monetary damages to the seniors and the recovery of attorneys’ fees.

Impact

  • The incident in Balch Springs was a clear constitutional violation that took away the seniors’ rights to free speech and religious expression. After fighting tirelessly for their rights, the seniors are now able to pray, sing and worship, pursant to a new city policy that clearly states that the center may be used “by any and all members and others lawfully on the center’s premises to engage in constitutionally protected speech without regard to its content or viewpoint.”

 

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