Faith rally lawsuit reaches settlement


Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

JACKSONVILLE — The city will pay an atheist group $5,000 in attorney fees and avoid holding religious events in the future in the settlement of a lawsuit over a day of faith rally.

The Aug. 12 rally was in response to a spiraling murder rate and the July 26 shooting death of 8-year-old Dreshawna Davis.

Her slaying sparked community outrage and more aggressive measures to reduce the homicide rate.

The settlement reached Friday requires the city to write New Jersey-based American Atheists Inc. a letter saying it did not intend to violate the First Amendment and will warn department heads against funding programs that "foster excessive entanglements with religion."

Despite the settlement, Mayor John Peyton still defends the rally.

"I have no regrets — it was time well spent and money well spent," Peyton told The Florida Times-Union on Tuesday.

However, the city will do a better job of consulting municipal attorneys "to make sure we don't violate the separation of church and state," Peyton said.

Cindy Laquidara, chief deputy general counsel, said the settlement is not an admission the city violated the Constitution by financing the event. It simply ends a potentially costly federal lawsuit.

But Edward Kagin, American Atheists' lead attorney, called the settlement a victory for the organization and for all people concerned about the erosion of church-state separation.

About 6,000 people attended the rally that included Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders.

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