Coronado City Manager Blair King has shared information about the process and pending decisions regarding the possible removal or changing of the “Church Directory” sign in Spreckels Park at 6th and Orange, referenced by the city as one of two community signs (the other is the service organization sign at 3rd and Orange).
When asked when and how the city began to consider modifying or removing the signs, Mr. King explained the following timeline from his perspective. Prior to 2010, the city council had very tight rules regarding which civic organizations could be listed on the 3rd and Orange sign. In 2010, the council decided to open the criteria and added a wider variety of civic organizations that could be included on the sign. This led to discussions about the sign being redesigned, adding a second sign or possibly moving the sign from its location at 3rd and Orange.
In 2011, the council reaffirmed the decision to allow more groups to be added to the sign and began exploring how to add and include other organizations, which included the possibility of moving the sign to 6th and Orange which would affect the other community sign, known in town by what it says at the top: “Church Directory.”
In 2013, there was discussion about wayfinding signs directing people around town and also a gateway sign (the gateway being the old toll plaza at the entrance to Coronado from the bridge). At that time CalTrans weighed in with concern over the size of the sign blocking traffic visibility. CalTrans has a voice in the matter because they have jurisdiction over State Route 75 which includes the bridge and the road as it heads to Orange Ave as 3rd Street, which is the intersection where the community organization sign is located. More discussions followed about breaking up the sign into different pieces and moving it.
In January/February 2018 the city was contacted by Ryan Meoni, a native Coronadan and recent CHS graduate who currently attends UC Santa Cruz, with questions about whether or not a sign in a community park which only emphasized Christian churches was indeed a community sign. The city also received a request for public records from Elizabeth Cavell, Associate Counsel for the Freedom From Religion Foundation(FFRF). Click on below images to enlarge:
The letter with the request indicates that the organization’s purpose is to protect separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. The request was specifically related to the Church Directory sign at 6th and Orange.
Meoni also contacted FFRF because he did not think the city would take his question seriously. In his opinion, “religious groups that want to be listed [as the city said they could be] won’t have to deal with their organizations being called churches. Jewish people don’t have churches. Muslims don’t have churches. Atheist/agnostic organizations don’t have churches. It’s simply the right thing to do.”
Cavell’s response to Meoni, after their inquiry to the city, was, “The city responded to my records request stating that the city has no responsive records. In other words, they don’t have a policy or any written guidelines for managing the directory, they have no document related to its history, nor any applications from churches who are already included, etc. I think the letter and request alerted the city to the fact that this church directory in its current form raises legal problems.”
With the two aforementioned inquiries, the city council did assess the potential for litigation and resulting in the idea to redesign the community signs, both of them, to accommodate civil, social, faith-based organizations as a unified sign to be located at 3rd and Orange, 6th and Orange or another location.
After this story initially broke, a letter was sent to Mayor Richard Bailey, and a copy was also sent to The Coronado Times, from Charles S. LiMandri, the President and Chief Counsel of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF). The FCDF is a national public interest law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases, and was also the pro bono attorney who successfully represented the City of San Diego in the precedent-setting Mt. Soledad Cross Case. LiMandri was contacted by a Coronado resident regarding the controversy arising from the unwarranted threat of litigation against the City of Coronado from the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Although according to the city manager and the documents available, there has not been an actual threat of litigation. LiMandri states, “based on our experience, it is our opinion that this informational sign serves a legitimate secular purpose that does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Any concerns can be addressed by simply adding another nearby sign that contains similar information about other nonprofit and community service organizations.”
At this time it appears the decision has been made to remove the community sign titled Church Directory on 6th and Orange. City Manager King explained that the city is not interested in going the route the city of San Diego did with the Mt. Soledad Cross Case. King says his direction is to do what the city can to minimize exposure to any possible negative lawsuit while at the same time looking to how it might redesign the signs to fulfill the council’s objective to being able to handle any faith-based organizations as well as the wide range of civic and social organizations that exist in Coronado.
There may be an option to have the sign moved to a private property location. The city council will be having a consultation with the council of churches; the city wants them included so they know this is not an attempt to be anti-church, but inclusive. The result would be a sign to recognize all faith-based organizations or civic groups or other groups, including any groups who are opposed to religion who have regular meetings and are open to the public; the city would want to include them also.
There will be no notice given to the community prior to the removal of the sign for maintenance or other purposes; it will be done by staff execution of a work order. As for the design process and suggestions for new community signs, i.e, what it should look like, what groups should be added, and how it can be clearly read, would be more wide-ranging and community input would be desired.