Jesus commanded his followers to go to the entire world, and make disciples of all nations. Our call is to baptize the new believers, and teach them everything Jesus taught us. But people often forget that the neighborhood park is a part of “the entire world.” People who shop at the same grocery stores we shop at, and who play ball at the same playgrounds, need to hear the gospel message as well. God’s command includes that we reach out to those living just down the street.
A great way to reach those in our communities is to utilize public parks and other public meeting places. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly held that Christians have the same right to access public spaces as non-Christians. Whether it’s to picnic, play ultimate Frisbee, or even assemble with others to engage in public discussions, Christians have equal access to public sidewalks.
While it might be difficult to bring the unsaved into our churches, there is no law stopping us from going out into our communities with the Gospel message. Well – at least there should be no law. Some of our clients at ADF have found out that at times, Christians are not given the same equal access to public sidewalks as others. Voices of Mercy Outreach Ministries is one such client.
VOM held a Sunday school program for at-risk youth in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They obtained permission from the East Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission to use Cadillac Street Park for its Sidewalk Sunday School ministry outreach in 2005. This ministry impacted many young lives with not only a message of hope, but also food for the stomach as well. Five years after granting permission to use the park, the commission notified the ministry that its outreach events violated a policy that prohibits all religious use of parks the commission operates. The Park Use Policy states, “Under no circumstances can a public park be used for…religious…purposes.”
VOM has not been permitted to use the park since then. This prevents the group from ministering to the youth living in the low-income communities surrounding Cadillac Street Park and has greatly diminished the ministry’s outreach.
The Alliance Defense Fund recently filed suit in federal court to protect their constitutional rights to spread the gospel. Faith-based groups shouldn’t be singled out for discrimination–especially a group like this that has provided such selfless service to at-risk youth and their parents for many years. The Sidewalk Sunday School program has the same constitutionally protected right as any other community group to hold its activities at a public park. There’s no constitutional basis to throw them out, and it’s a mystery why the commission would even want to do so in light of the valuable work this group does for the community.
If you are a Christian ministry, rest assured that you have the same access to sidewalks as other groups. If you are denied this right, please contact us at ADF so we can assist you in spreading the Good News.