The San Diego Symphony Orchestra Association is facing a potential legal battle for telling a local church it couldn't rent its venue for a Christmas show because it's religious. The religious rights law firm First Liberty Institute has taken the case, calling it a violation of California state and federal laws.
Last May, Awaken Church, a Christian megachurch with campuses across San Diego County, contacted The Rady Shell, managed by the San Diego Symphony Orchestra Association, about renting the shell as the venue for the church's planned Night of Christmas event. The symphony's director of venue rentals said the church could have either Dec. 2 or 3, depending on the date chosen by another renter who had expressed interest in the same weekend.
However, after several attempts by church leadership to follow up and secure the date, the symphony's director told the church by email that 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."
On Thursday, attorneys with the First Liberty Institute, a religious rights law firm, sent an 11-page letter to the San Diego Symphony Orchestra Association, informing them that their denial to rent the facility to Awaken Church because it's "religious" violates state and federal law and should be reversed immediately.
According to First Liberty Institute's letter, "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."
"The law is clear – barring a church from renting a public accommodation simply because it's a church is a blatant violation of the law," said First Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Jordan Pratt. "Rady Shell expressed very clearly in an email that they are not renting to 'religious organizations.' That's illegal, and we are simply asking Rady Shell to comply with state and federal law."
"We just want to have as many people in our community as possible see the story of Christmas," Awaken Church's pastor Jurgen Matthesius said. "Our hope is that we can resolve this without having to take further legal action."
CBN News has reached out to the San Diego Symphony for comment. We'll post it here when we hear back.