Las Vegas resident Morgan Alan did not feel welcome in her neighborhood’s public, city-owned recreational center. Because the YMCA, a Christian organization, was running Ms. Alan’s local center and another city-owned rec center, community members were required to join the YMCA to use the facilities. In addition, both centers referenced Christianity in their brochures and one center had a Bible verse on its wall that read, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Ms. Alan, who is Jewish, did not feel welcome in this environment.
“It can be difficult to be a religious minority in this community,” she said. “It’s important that there be a separation between religion and Community Centers that are paid for with public funds. It would be similar to walking into a public school and seeing a religious statue. People of all religions and nationalities use those Centers, and they shouldn’t feel uncomfortable there.”
The ACLU of Nevada was concerned about violations of the United States and Nevada Constitutions, which require the separation of church and state. “Government activity cannot foster an excessive government entanglement with religion,” said Maggie McLetchie, staff attorney with the ACLU of Nevada.
The ACLU of Nevada and the City of Las Vegas were able to reach an agreement concerning the operation of these city centers. The City of Las Vegas must ensure that:
- all religious references are permanently removed from the centers;
- all money received by the YMCA from the City to administer the centers is segregated from other YMCA funds "and cannot be spent on furthering Christian/religious purposes";
- community members may participate in programs at the centers without joining the YMCA; and
- the following language is prominently posted at the centers and displayed on all materials provided to the public by the centers: "The City of Las Vegas Community Centers at Centennial Hills and Durango Hills are managed and provided to the citizens of Las Vegas for no other purpose than providing educational and recreational activities. The YMCA does not and will not promote or advertise any religion at these two leisure centers."
The ACLU of Nevada is pleased with the agreement and happy that the issue was resolved without costly litigation. Even more importantly, Las Vegas residents of all faiths and backgrounds can now feel like the community centers belong to them.
As Morgan Alan said, “I’m very happy that I can now step into these Community Centers and not feel like an outsider.”
- Users of two recreation centers no longer have to join YMCA, Las Vegas Review-Journal, October 1, 2009
While the ACLU of Nevada works to ensure that the Fist Amendment’s requirement that church and state be separate, it also works hard to protect religious freedom and expression.
- JOHN L. SMITH: Pray tell why godless ACLU meddles with protecting religious freedoms, Las Vegas Review-Journal, August 17, 2008