I filed right-to-know requests following a discussion I had with Wilkes-Barre city officials concerning the unprominent placement of an FFRF banner.
5/12/14 update: Wilkes-Barre invoked a 30-day extension for response citing staff shortage as the primary reason.
Earlier this week — following a recorded discussion I had with Wilkes-Barre City Administrator Marie McCormick and Special Events Coordinator Liza Prokop — I filed right-to-know (open records) requests to unearth information pertaining to the May 1, 2014 National Day of Prayer (NDOP) event I protested — Circle the Square With Prayer — on Public Square; the NDOP banner which was displayed on Public Square; and the ‘May is Mental Health Month’ banner which was displayed on Public Square.
According to city officials, within the recorded discussion, a group ‘rented the square for their [National Day of Prayer] event’ and, because of this, or at least partially because of this, the Freedom From Religion (FFRF) banner I submitted for display was unprominently hung on the reverse side of the Public Square scaffolding structure which houses banners. This reasoning doesn’t make sense, though, especially because a ‘May is Mental Health Month’ banner was displayed on the day of the National Day of Prayer event; if the NDOP group rented the event and event rental grants exclusive use of the scaffolding’s front side, the ‘May is Mental Health Month’ banner would be displayed on the reverse side of the scaffolding structure.
If it is the case that the NDOP event agreement specifies nothing about exclusive use of the scaffolding structure (I assume it will not since the 2011 Special Events Request Form has a separate entry for banner payments and Public Square rentals), testimony of city officials is further discredited.
The most plausible explanation, with or without open records requests being fulfilled, is that city officials (or someone else) did not like my message and did not want it displayed during the NDOP event. Since city officials could not outright refuse my banner and $50, lest they would face a tremendous lawsuit because of — among other things — viewpoint discrimination, they intentionally displayed the banner on the opposite side of the scaffolding structure so it was as out of sight as possible….still engaging in viewpoint discrimination, placing one banner in prominence, in a more subtle fashion and devising ridiculous excuses and twisting the truth after the fact in an attempt to form plausible deniability (which is not working).
I welcome city officials to admit they engaged in viewpoint discrimination rather than being dishonest. You know how to reach me. I plan to speak during the upcoming May 29, 2014 Wilkes-Barre City Council meeting alongside other members of the NEPA Freethought Society (RSVP here) expressing my complaints. I welcome people to join me. Whether you are sympathetic to the viewpoint on the banner or not, you should at least agree that it is unfair for city officials to treat people unequally on the basis of viewpoint [displayed on banners]. You may also (and should) object to the recurring government-led Judeo-Christian prayers – building on my 2013 complaints.
As always, feel free to leave your comments below.