Flowertown flap gets town’s attention
Summerville Town Council jumped into the settled dispute between the Summerville Family YMCA and Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry at its meeting Wednesday.
Council voted unanimously to ask the YMCA for a list of all organizations denied booths in the last five years and the number of religious organizations selected, and in a second motion voted unanimously to have the town attorney research whether federal law would extend religious protection to the Humanists.
Councilman Walter Bailey broached the issue at the end of the meeting, interjecting as Mayor Bill Collins called for a motion to adjourn.
Bailey was disturbed the town wasn’t notified of the disagreement between the two organizations.
The YMCA initially denied the Humanists a booth at the Flowertown Festival, then reversed course after receiving a letter from attorneys with the American Humanist Association.
“I knew nothing about this until I read the newspaper,” Bailey said.
The YMCA runs the festival, the proceeds of which fund scholarships for YMCA programs, but it does so on public property – primarily Main Street and Azalea Park.
After the meeting, Bailey said the town should be alerted to any problems that come up because the YMCA’s decisions could drag the town into court.
The YMCA and the Humanists will each look to their own interests, but someone needs to look after the town’s interests, he said.
Bailey also told council he doubts the Humanists can claim religious protection because they are an “antireligious” group.
The local group describes itself as “an organization of atheists, agnostics, skeptics and other freethinkers” that was founded in 1994.
The letter from the national group cited federal and state law, saying, “Because of the public and commercial nature of the Festival, YMCA cannot refuse to do business with a customer, such as SHL, on the basis of its religious views.”
As a side note, Bailey said he’s bothered that towns get in trouble for allowing manger scenes on public property during Christmas, but the Humanists can claim protection and demand entrance to the YMCA’s festival.