Community VBS to be held in downtown Saluda

Published 3:21 pm Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Board’s decision follows First Amendment discussion

SALUDA – The Saluda Board of Commissioners approved a permit for Warrior Mountain Baptist Church to have a vacation Bible school (VBS) at McCreery Park in August, but not without discussion regarding making a public park exclusive.

Saluda City Council met July 10 and heard a request from Amy Day, with Warrior Mountain Baptist Church.

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Day originally asked that the church use the gazebo, the stage area and the playground area at McCreery Park for the VBS. Day said the plans were to put a perimeter around the entire area for the children’s safety, such as taping off McCreery Park.

Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden asked Day if they basically wanted to shut down the park.

Day said they don’t want to shut down the park, but to mark it off for safety purposes. The church wants the community to come to the VBS, but didn’t want adults without children to come into the area during VBS.

“We don’t want anybody to not be able to use it, we just want everybody to join in with us,” Day said.

Commissioner Mark Oxtoby asked whether someone, like a grandparent who brought their grandchildren to play, would have access to the park.

Day said the church would give them wristbands to match adults with the children in the park.

City attorney Jana Berg said she has a bit of an issue with the marking off of a public facility because McCreery Park is paid for by citizen tax dollars, which encompasses different religions.

“You can rent the pavilion, you can rent the stage and they can use that because they paid for it,” Berg said.

Berg suggested instead of wristbands that could have a certain church’s name on it, the church could put their children involved with the VBS in a certain colored t-shirt and only put wristbands on children involved with VBS.

“To require the general public to put on a wristband,” Berg said, “I have a problem with that.”

Amanda Anderson said last year she was involved in an event to raise money for the park and the VBS is another example of something that would be good for the town. She said people are welcome to come to the park.

Berg said but they would be required to put on a wristband like they are part of the group.

Berg said she understands the intent, but the park was created with tax dollars from all the citizens. She said from a First Amendment perspective, the city can’t allow an exclusive event. The ACLU, for example, Berg said, could say you required a Buddhist to attend VBS.

Berg said she thinks there are ways to accomplish everything the church needs without making the park exclusive to them.

Baisden also said the restrooms at McCreery Park are public and those would have to remain open to the public, which Day said they agreed and would not rope off the restrooms.

Commissioners decided to allow the church to rent out the pavilion and the stage for $50 a day, or $150 total, which is the city’s rate.

Day said she expects 50 people, but would like to have 100.

“People are really excited and can’t wait for an event such as this to happen here,” Day said.

The VBS is for any children to attend, not just for Warrior Mountain Baptist Church.

Commissioners also discussed parking for the event and asked that any parking be done off street. Day agreed and stated that they already have parking privileges at the Baptist church next to the library if needed.

Commissioners approved the special permit for the pavilion and the stage only.

Commissioner Leon Morgan said children from VBS can still use the park, but they can’t make it exclusive.

The community VBS will be held Aug. 4-6 with Friday and Saturday being from 6-8:30 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Food will be provided.