Citing fear of a future lawsuit, a city in California plans to tear down a historic church directory despite legal advice that is has done nothing wrong.
The city-owned directory in Coronado stands at the corner of Orange Avenue and Sixth Street, where it's been since the 1960s.
The Los Angeles Times reports that a city resident, Ryan Meoni, told the newspaper he never intended for the sign to be removed but disagreed with the word "church" on city property.
Yet the city's response was all but certain after Meoni complained to the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the atheist group known for using the threat of lawsuits to make opponents back down.
In this latest example, an FFRF attorney claimed in a letter that the sign raises "serious constitutional concerns" because it lists only Christian churches, which suggests Coronado is promoting Christianity over other faiths.
And the threatening letter worked: Mayor Richard Bailey announced a more "inclusive" sign listing all organizations will be erected in the future.
Coronado, home to 25,000 residents, is a resort city located in San Diego Bay.
Pacific Justice Institute chief counsel Kevin Snider says the mayor overreacted, since the word "church" is not as exclusive as some claim.
"The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and other agencies use the word 'church' to refer generically to refer to synagogues, temples, any kind of religious entity," he points out.
The L.A. Times story, in fact, quotes a professor from the University of San Diego Law School who says Coronado would withstand legal scrutiny so long as the sign is open to other religions.
"There is a tendency in the country, of late," Professor Maimon Schwarzschild told the newspaper, "for advocacy groups to threaten litigation, and/or to threaten boycotts — often, as I think in this case, on slender grounds — and for people and businesses and towns and cities to be intimidated, and to stop doing perfectly legitimate and useful things, out of fear for what might happen if, for instance, they are sued."
The same story also quotes attorney Charles LiMandri, who represented San Diego and its fight to keep the Mt. Soledad cross (pictured above). He told the Times he contacted Coronado, offering to represent the city for free, but never heard back.