Church group told that baptisms are not allowed in Falmouth parkBased on news accounts that a riverfront park in Stafford County has banned baptisms and may be limiting other religious activities, the ACLU of Virginia has sent a letter to the park's director seeking written assurances that religious expression will not be curtailed in the future.
The ACLU also sent a letter to the Rev. Todd Pyle of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Stafford County, who was told by a park official last Sunday that no baptisms were allowed at Falmouth Waterfront Park. Rev. Pyle had just baptized 12 church members at the park, briefly submerging them in the river, when he was informed of the prohibition.
The ACLU letter to Pyle assures him that he has the same right as anyone else to use the park and offers to assist the church if it intends to use the park in the future. The ACLU also suggests that Pastor Pyle let other religious groups know of their right to use the park and of the ACLU’s offer of assistance.
“The rules for religious expression in a public park are actually pretty simple,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis, “because they must be the same as for all other activities. If the park rules allow people to wade and swim in the river, then they must allow baptisms in the river. If the rules allow groups to gather for cultural, social or political purposes, then they must allow religious gatherings as well. If the park allows the use of amplified sound, then religious voices have the same right to be amplified as other voices.”
“It all comes back to the fundamental rights of free speech and freedom of religion as guaranteed by the U.S Constitution,” added Willis. “If these rights are not protected in a public park, then one has to wonder where they would be protected.”
Although located in Stafford County, the Falmouth Waterfront Park falls under the jurisdiction of the Fredericksburg-Stafford Park Authority, headed by Brian Robinson.
Copies of the letters, sent by ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca K. Glenberg to Robinson and Pyle, are available by contacting the ACLU of Virginia at the telephone number below.
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022