Unwelcoming: San Diego Church Barred from Renting Local Venue for Christmas Show Because It’s “Religious”

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First Liberty Institute sent a letter to the San Diego Symphony Orchestra Association, which manages the venue Rady Shell, informing them that their denial to rent its facility to Awaken Church because it’s “religious” violates state and federal law and should be reversed immediately.

You can read the letter here.


“The law is clear – barring a church from renting a public accommodation simply because it’s a church is a blatant violation of the law,” said Jordan Pratt, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute.  “Rady Shell expressed very clearly in an email that they are not renting to ‘religious organizations.’  That’s illegal, and we are simply asking Rady Shell to comply with state and federal law.”

“We just want to have as many people in our community as possible see the story of Christmas,” Awaken Church’s pastor Jurgen Matthesius said.  “Our hope is that we can resolve this without having to take further legal action.”

In May, the Church contacted the Rady Shell about renting space as the venue for Night of Christmas.  The symphony’s director of venue rentals said the church could have either December 2 or 3, depending on the date chosen by another renter who had expressed interest in the same weekend.  But after several attempts by the church to follow up and secure the date, the director told the church by email that the Symphony does not “have a policy on renting this venue to religious organizations. Until we have time to consider this internally, we have decided we must pass on this rental and any other potential rentals to religious organizations.”

According to the letter sent today, “The Symphony has refused to rent the Rady Shell — a place of public accommodation — to Awaken Church specifically and expressly because the Church is a “religious organization[ ].” In doing so, the Symphony has violated and continues to violate Title II and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. This renders the Symphony liable to the full range of legal actions and penalties available under Title II and the Unruh Civil Rights Act, including but not limited to injunctive relief requiring approval of the Church’s request, damages, a further amount determined by a jury, payment of the Church’s attorney’s fees, and intervention by the California Office of the Attorney General.”

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