Atheists Sue Over Capitol Steps Access 

Idaho Athiests, Inc., and its director, Susan Harrington, announced on Monday that they have filed suit against State Facilities Manger Tim Mason and Gov. Dirk Kempthorne for, according to Harrington, "trying to turn Idaho's government into a 'religion bully' where the state enforces religious belief and discriminates against Atheists."

The suit arises from a scheduling conflict on the Idaho State Capitol front steps on May 5, ostensibly the National Day of Prayer, but which IAI prefers to celebrate as "Idaho Day of Equality." The group reserved the steps on that day to hold an event, which would have moved NDP proceedings inside the Capitol building.

According to Harrington, "Government state facilities officials have now intervened and stated that it was their mistake, and that our Atheist group must give up our spot we obtained legally to give preference to a religious event." She added, "Even though the NDP event wasn't scheduled when we made our reservations, even though we had been assured that we were following the guidelines, and even though the National Day of Prayer people were going to move their event inside, the state is saying that we Atheists cannot hold our event on the front steps and that we have to move to the side steps."

In response to the original conflict, Mason told BW that the NDP was a "standing event" that had preference over newly scheduled conflicts, and that the governor didn't get involved. However, NDP volunteer Jim Hughes told BW that the governor's office "offered to help us straighten this out" once the conflict became apparent.

Harrington responded to the conflict, "The governor must set the standard of inclusiveness and neutrality with respect to religious opinion or practice. Religious opinion is a personal matter, and the government has no business implying that Atheists are second-class citizens because they don't believe in gods."

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