Balch Springs Case | Cases | First Liberty

City to Senior Citizens: No More Prayer, Gospel Music, or Religious Speakers

For several years, senior citizens at the Balch Springs Senior Center used their facility for many different programs and recreational events. A group of these seniors also gathered at the center to sing gospel songs and hear inspirational messages from a retired pastor. Some seniors also quietly prayed when they received meals.

In August 2003, everything changed when the city enacted a new policy and told the seniors they could no longer pray before meals, listen to gospel music, or bring in religious speakers. These activities had previously been run by the seniors themselves with no involvement from the city, and all activities and programs were voluntary. No one was coerced into praying, singing, or attending.

Legal Action

First Liberty Institute and then volunteer attorney Jeff Mateer jumped to the defense of the seniors and their right to freely express their faith. First Liberty’s attorneys drafted a letter asking the city to reverse the policy and warning that if it did not, the city could face a lawsuit for denying the seniors their constitutional rights.

The city ignored the letter, and First Liberty filed a lawsuit against the city of Balch Springs for multiple violations of both the U.S. and Texas Constitutions.

Ultimately, as a result of the lawsuit, in January 2004, the city agreed to the court’s Final Judgment and revoked its unconstitutional policy. In addition, the court awarded monetary damages to the seniors and the recovery of attorneys’ fees.

The incident in Balch Springs was a clear constitutional violation of the seniors’ right to free speech and religious expression. After fighting tirelessly for their rights, the seniors are now able to pray, sing, and worship pursuant to a new city policy that clearly states that the center may be used “by any and all members and others lawfully on the center’s premises to engage in constitutionally protected speech without regard to its content or viewpoint.”

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