Hayden tackles religion debate | SteamboatToday.com

Hayden tackles religion debate

Town Board to consider church-state issue in TV policy

If you go

What: Hayden Town Board meeting

Where: Hayden Town Hall

When: Today at 7:30 p.m.

— The Hayden Town Board will consider a new policy today that would allow Hayden churches to advertise vacation Bible school.

In fact, the new policy would allow any not-for-profit message intended for the general public to be broadcast.

The policy is in response to Hayden church leaders being told earlier this summer by town staff that they could not advertise vacation Bible school on the town-operated Channel 10 because it compromised the church-state separation.

There has never been a formal policy that states what could be broadcast on the TV channel in Hayden. Community events such as the library’s summer reading program and school activities have historically been advertised on the channel.

Hayden Town Manager Russ Martin said an “informal administrative policy” enforced by past town managers led to the decision not to run the Bible school announcement.

At a July 20 Hayden Town Board meeting, Mission of Grace Baptist Church Pastor Doug Zirkle addressed the board during public comment.

Zirkle told the Town Board that he thought a dangerous precedent had been set in not allowing the Bible school announcement on the public airways and it “should be a matter of urgent concern to everyone who believes in free speech and who believes that free speech should be protected and upheld at all costs.”

Martin said Tuesday that even before Zirkle addressed the Town Board last month, he thought staff needed clear direction for such situations and the policy issue needed to be addressed by trustees. Several trustees have said that the issue should be discussed.

“It was not our intent to discriminate,” Martin said Tuesday.

Martin researched what other types of policies have been implemented in other communities and consulted town legal counsel.

“I looked at several policies, took my time and thought about it,” Martin said.

The new policy specifically addresses what can appear on Channel 10, Hayden’s Web site, posting areas around Town Hall and a digital sign used to advertise town events.

“The intent through the policy really is to not discriminate against an organization or organizations based on their purpose,” Martin said.

Martin acknowledged that the new policy goes so far as to not discriminate against an organization even if its message might be offensive to some people.

“I would apologize to anyone who was offended or felt discriminated by the actions leading to this discussion,” Martin wrote in a staff report to the Town Board recommending adoption of the new policy.

The Town Board also will:

– Discuss renewing a contract with Waste Management, which picks up the trash in Hayden. The renewal would be for two years and included an increase of $1.50 per month to $16.50 for residential rates. The rate for seniors would stay at $12 per month. Waste Management cited increased landfill and fuel costs as the reason for increasing the rate.

– Consider revising the Hayden land-use code.

– Consider an agreement to act as administrative agent for a sports complex impact study.

– To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4210 or e-mail mstensland@steamboatpilot.com

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