San Diego Symphony Orchestra hits sour note with local church

San Diego Symphony Orchestra hits sour note with local church

San Diego Symphony Orchestra hits sour note with local church

A defender of religious liberty says it's a violation of state and federal laws to deny a church use of a place of public accommodation simply because it is a religious organization.


UPDATE (8/8/2022) - First Liberty Institute reports today that the San Diego Symphony Association has responded to the legal firm's letter and reversed its decision, thereby opening the door for Awaken Church and the Association to set a date to use Rady Shell for a Christmas program.

Awaken Church, a Christian megachurch with campuses across San Diego County, has a ministry that puts on the "Night of Christmas" program every December. Jordan Pratt of First Liberty Institute, the law firm representing Awaken Church, says the ministry wanted to rent the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, a venue managed by the San Diego Symphony Orchestra Association that is described as "an important public resource" and "a site for a wider range of private and public events and performances."

The symphony's director of venue rentals initially said the church could have either December 2nd or 3rd, depending on the date chosen by another renter who had expressed interest in the same weekend.

Pratt, Jordan (First Liberty Institute) Pratt

"But then, our client got an email response back from the symphony which said, 'We don't have a policy about renting to religious organizations, and therefore we can't rent to religious organizations, or we won't rent to religious organizations,'" Pratt relays. "So our client essentially was told, 'We're not going to rent to you because you're religious,' and that's a violation of both state and federal anti-discrimination laws."

First Liberty sent the Orchestra Association an 11-page letter on Wednesday, giving it a week to respond.

"We're hopeful, we're cautiously optimistic that the symphony -- after having read our letter -- will agree to honor its initial commitment to rent the Rady Shell and that this matter can be resolved," says Pratt. "But if it's not resolved in that way, we are prepared to go to court."

Awaken Church Pastor Jurgen Matthesius also hopes to avoid further legal action.

"We just want to have as many people in our community as possible see the story of Christmas," said Matthesius.