Readers’ Forum

Music in Park

Dear editor,

Apparently my comments at the October City Council meeting regarding Music in the Park have upset a number of people. In past years Music in the Park has been a private event held on public property, thanks to the generosity of Northwest Savings Bank, the Zavianski’s and many others. At this meeting City Council voted to adopt Music in the Park as a City program. This costs the City nothing but saves the program organizers from being required to buy liability insurance. The funding and administration remains the same, however now this is technically a municipal government program.

As a Councilman part of my job is to insure that our actions comply with the law and don’t expose the City to future unintended costs. Right now Warren is involved in many legal matters and the taxpayers are making payments on settlements totaling over one million dollars.

With this in mind, I asked Mr. Zavianski if religious themed acts have performed at Music in the Park in the past. While there were none last year there have been in prior years. We all have the first amendment right to use public space for religious speech; I have been to Mass at Betts Park many times. However, there may be a Constitutional problem if religious music is played at an event that is now controlled and run, even if only technically, by the City. It also might not be a problem at all; I am not an attorney. I made this comment to make the City staff and solicitor aware of this potential issue so they could look into if necessary.

Any individual or group of citizens has a natural right to use public property to express their views and celebrate their values. In Warren this doesn’t require a permit or fee unless they want exclusive use of that public space. Anyone is welcome to pray, protest, sing, rally or stand on a soapbox and express themselves in our public spaces and that is how it should be. However we need to tread carefully when the government itself is the group expressing views on deeply held beliefs. Now that Music in the Park is a government program it’s only sensible to make sure that it complies with the law in this regard.

Respectfully,

Sam Harvey, Warren