A San Diego megachurch has been permitted to rent a public venue to host its Christmas program later in the year after its request was initially denied.
Previously, the San Diego Symphony Orchestra Association decided that Awaken Church could not rent the venue, Rady Shell, because it was classified as a "religious organization."
In 2021, Awaken Church contacted the venue about possibly renting it for the church's Night of Christmas event. The symphony's director said the church could have either Dec. 2 or Dec. 3, but when church leaders tried to follow up and secure the date, church officials received an email that said 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," the email continued.
First Liberty Institute then wrote an 11-page letter to the San Diego Symphony Orchestra Association, asserting that their decision to reject Awaken Church's venue rental request because of its religious affiliation violates state and federal law. The law group also urged the association to reverse its decision immediately.
The letter said, "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."
According to CBN News, the Symphony has reversed its decision and is now permitting Awaken to rent the event space.
Jordan Pratt, senior counsel for the religious rights law firm, said the church was "grateful to officials at the symphony association for responding so quickly and favorably." He further added, "The Symphony's response indicates an openness to work with the church, and now we're working on securing a date. Our hope is that no further action will be needed."
Awaken Church's pastor Jurgen Matthesius said he was glad the decision was changed.
"We are hopeful that we can find a date that works for everyone and look forward to inviting the community to experience the joy of Christmas," he said.
Photo courtesy: ©Paolo Chiabrando/Unsplash
Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.