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Lawsuit claims Allendale Township violated groups' First Amendment rights

Civil War statue at Veterans Garden of Honor,Allendale Twp., MI
Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press
Associated Press

Litigation comes after officials reject racial equality messaging on bricks in local park

A group of racial-justice advocates have filed a lawsuit against Allendale—claiming the Township’s Board violated their first Amendment rights and censored their speech.

The lawsuit asserts that Allendale Township unlawfully violated the group’s free speech rights by allowing people to pay for messages on engraved bricks in a local park promoting a wide range of topics like Christianity or local businesses rejected bricks with messages supporting racial equality.

Peter Harding, a student-attorney for the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative (CRLI) at the University of Michigan Law School, which represents the advocates.

“They allowed in messages like ‘I am the resurrection and the life, and messages promoting graduating classes, or local businesses, and that is fine they can do that,” he said. “But if they are going to have this program where they allow pretty much anything, they have to allow racial justice messages. The choose not to do that, and that is what is problematic under the first amendment here.”

Then bricks are located in Allendale’s Garden of Honor, the same park where a controversial statue of two civil war soldiers standing over a black youth stands. Efforts by social justice groups to have that statue removed failed earlier this year. In protest, the group then tried to purchase bricks with phrases like “Black Lives Matter” on them.

The lawsuit contends that during the application process, Allendale Township purposefully changed the rules of what can is allowed to be printed on the bricks, and then rejected the request.

Harding says the lawsuit isn’t about money, it’s about principle.

“All we really want is for Allendale to do what is should have done in the first place, and honor our clients first amendment rights and place those bricks in the Garden of Honor with the messages they choose.”

WGVU reached out to Allendale Township. Supervisor Adam Elenbass issued this statement,

“We received notification of a lawsuit via email and are reviewing the document with our legal counsel.”

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