• 1st Amendment Group Blasts Church Claiming Bike Lane Will Threaten Religious Freedom

    A First Amendment group in Washington, D.C., is calling on city officials to ignore a church’s claim that a bike lane will somehow impede its ability to worship freely.

    Americans United For Separation of Church and State, a non-profit organization based in D.C., sent a letter to the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) director Leif Dormsjo Tuesday arguing United House of Prayer claims that a bike lane will hinder its ability to attract church goers has no constitutional bearing.

    “Not only are they unsupported in law, but these frivolous claims actually threaten religious freedom. Arguing that designating portions of public roads as bike lanes burdens religion belittles true violations of religious liberty,” the letter, written by legislative director Maggie Garrett, reads. “Furthermore, if DDOT were to acquiesce to the church’s claims, it would be handing this church and other houses of worship in the District a trump card over all its decisions.”

    Last week, leaders at the prominent black church complained to Dormsjo that putting a bike lane in front of their church will infringe upon “its constitutionally protected rights of religious freedom and equal protection of the laws.”

    In a letter to Dormsjo, the church, represented by a lawyer, writes that the proposed plan to put a protected bike lane along 6th Street NW will take away parking spaces and put an unconstitutional burden on people who want to attend services at the church.

    “As you know, bicycles have freely and safely traversed the District of Columbia throughout the 90-year history of the United House of Prayer, without any protected bicycle lanes and without infringing in the least on the United House of Prayer’s religious rights,” the letter reads.

    Americans United dismisses the church’s claims that the bike lane in unconstitutional, explaining that the placement of the bike lanes doesn’t target the church or its right to practice religion.

    The group says it’s not just the church that will be impacted by the bike lane, but numerous buildings and homes along the street will also be affected.

    “The bike lane, which would traverse many blocks and in front of many homes, businesses, and other structures, is designed to increase bicycle use and safety and is not targeted at religious practice,” Americans United writes in its letter. “Nor would the bike lane actually result in the inability of the church to engage in religious practice.”

    DDOT is still in the process of studying where the best possible option for placement of the bike lane will be and likely won’t make a decision until after the new year.

    The agency will host an open house Oct. 22 at the nearby Shaw Library for the public to come and voice their opinions about the bike lane.

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