Beliefnet News

On Sunday, Washington State bureaucrats forbade a local church from holding a baptism in a public lake near the state capitol.

Saying that she interprets the state constitution to bar religious use of any state property, the acting director of the state Dapartment of General Administration, Jane Rushford, declined to issue Olympia’s Reality Church a permit to use Heritage Park’s lake for outdoor immersion of new converts during the church’s annual picnic.

“We are approving their use of Heritage Park for the purpose of a picnic, a barbecue. We are denying their permit for the purpose of holding a baptism,” said Rushford’s spokesman Jim Erskine.

The church held picnics two previous years at Heritage Park without incident.

In a written appeal, the American Center for Law & Justice asserted that prohibiting baptism in a public lake violates church members’ rights protected by the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Rushford’s decision came after consultations with lawyers in the Attorney General’s Office and with the Governor’s Office.

Not answered was why the church asked for the state’s permission. Beliefnet calls to church officials have not been returned.

Outdoor baptisms have been conducted throughout history without government involvement. There is no record that John the Baptist sought any permits.

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