Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the 51 year old Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church of Detroit. Piety Hill refers to the old name for our neighborhood. The neighborhood has changed a great deal in the over 150 years we have been on this corner (but not our traditional biblical theology) and it is now known for the neighboring theatres, the professional baseball and football stadiums and new hockey/basketball arena.

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Friday, June 29, 2007

Court hearing today

I sat in on the hearing today between The Downtown Development Authority of Detroit and the American Atheists Inc., of which St. John's is an intervening defendant.

Last year we were offered a matching grant for a facade improvement and parking lot edges beautification program to improve the neighborhood. After doing the work and paying for it, the AAI sued to prevent us, Central United Methodist, and Second Baptist Church from benefiting from the program. Since then we have been paying interest in the $93,000 owed to us by the DDA.

It was interesting sitting in on the hearings. I don't want to comment on the actual proceeding and arguments since I am not a lawyer and might mess up what was being argued. But let me make some observations about the "scene".

First, the courtrooms in Federal Court are MUCH nicer than 36th District Court or the Frank Murphy Court building. Most likely, due to federal funds AND much less traffic (the other courts seem to handle MANY MORE cases in my experience with jury duty and police chaplain at 36th district).

Secondly, it was interesting to see that the AAI had one lawyer there to argue the case. He was in an expensive looking suit and had a pony tail. For the defense we had 7 lawyers - 3 for the city/DDA, 3 for St. John's including parishioner John Nicholson and two more from The Alliance Defense Fund
and a lawyer from the U.S. Department of Justice, who have filed and AMICUS (friend of the court) brief supporting our position.

Third, in the Gallery, there were two people from St. John's, and perhaps another 20 from Central Methodist and Second Baptist. There were three or four people there listening supporting the atheists. They all sat in the front row behind their lawyer. They were all older, with grey hair, and all looked very unhappy. Perhaps angry is a better observation. They confirmed a stereotype of atheist activitists being older angry folks dressed primarily in black and in birkenstock sandals with socks (at least one fit that dress code description to a "T").

Finally, all the lawyers on both sides seemed to me to be very well spoken.

The entire hearing from start to finish took a little over an hour. Of course there were hours of preparations and stacks of documents submitted in advance - all of which the judge has to go through to make his decision.

After the hearing, I leaned over to our lawyer and asked when the decision would be made, expecting an answer of next week or the one afterwards. The answer? It could take weeks or MONTHS!

And of course, then there is always the possibility of appeals, etc.

This is all an interesting learning experience for me, and unfortunately an expensive one for the Church as we continue to pay interest on the loan!