Street dancing at the Thibodeauxville Festival
The Louisiana American Civil Liberties Union fired off a letter to the mayor of Thibodaux, La., warning that the small town’s promotion of a city festival featuring Christian bands may be a violation of the First Amendment.
The Thibodeauxville Festival, which draws nearly 12,000 people to the town whose population barely exceeds 14,000, has featured fun, food, street dancing and bands from a variety of genres for the past 16 years.
But when the ACLU spied the city’s seal on a flier that also promoted the Christian bands performing at the festival, it took action.
Marjorie Esman, executive director of ACLU Louisiana told WWL-TV, New Orleans, “We wrote to a letter to the mayor, copied the president of the chamber, asking them for the future to not include religious expression in the event.”
Kathy Benoit, president of Thibodeaux Chamber of Commerce, told the station she was surprised by the letter.
“The city’s logo appears on the some of marketing materials because of the cooperation we get,” said Benoit. “They allow us to use these streets, and it’s just a partnership, but they do not give us any money at all.”
Esman, however, contends differently.
“We know that the city does provide some funds to the chamber,” Esman said. “We’re not sure what those funds are used for. The fact is, the city has its official logo on these fliers.”
Further, Esman told WWL-TV, “The issue is government endorsement of religious expression. The issue is really not whether the band has a right to play. The issue is whether the government should be in the business of endorsing religious expression.”
The Alliance Defense Fund, an alliance of attorneys dedicated to defending religious liberty, has also stepped in, sending a letter in support of the city.
“(The Christian bands’) music and their messages are fully protected under the Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment, regardless of whether the ACLU may be offended by them,” ADF Senior Legal Counsel Mike Johnson wrote to Mayor Charles Caillouet in the ADF letter.
“Christians should not be discriminated against because of their beliefs. Contrary to the contentions of the ACLU, they have the same rights of access and participation at the festival as anyone else,” wrote Johnson. “The event is a family-friendly food and music festival that is privately funded. The city has done nothing other than allow the festival to be held in its streets. The ACLU’s threat is baseless.”
Benoit told the Lafourche Parish Daily Comet she has little concern about the ACLU’s claims and that the controversy has actually helped advertise the Thibodeauxville Festival.
“In fact, they were talking about it this morning on the radio station down the bayou,” Benoit told the Daily Comet. “It’s amazing that this issue has gotten now statewide attention, it seems, and that so many people have responded favorably to us and support of this whole situation.”