In a series of emails earlier in July, City Manager Jim Couch and Archbishop Paul Coakley discussed Coakley’s concerns about a satanist’s plans to stage a ‘black mass’ in a basement theater at Oklahoma City’s Civic Center Music Hall. The satanic ritual involves a sacrifice to the devil, a practice known as “inversion” of the Catholic mass. Here are excerpts from their conversation:
July 3, 8:33 a.m.
An employee in the Office of Ministries at the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City forwards on Coakley’s behalf a press release from Bill Donohue, of the Catholic League in New York. In it, Donohue says, “Oklahoma City is setting itself up for a lawsuit.”
July 3, 1:11 p.m.
Couch responds, thanking the archbishop and saying he will forward Donohue’s critique to the city attorney’s office.
July 8, 10:38 a.m.
Couch writes to say city lawyers have reviewed a case cited by Donohue, Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 (1984). Couch reports that the case “refers to actions of the government i.e. the government cannot display hostility to any religion. It does not refer to the activities of an individual displaying hostility towards religion. Since the Civic Center is a City-owned facility, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution does not allow us to turn away productions based on their content.”
July 8, 11:32 a.m.
“Thank you for looking into this matter. I must say that I am not satisfied with the answer. There simply has to be a way for the City to restrict usage of this facility for such a publicly offensive production. …
“Would you rent the Civic Center to a group that intended to burn the Koran? I am sure we both agree that it would be inconceivable for a variety of reasons! …
“There is a growing sense of outrage nationally over this scheduled event. I am disappointed that there is not a comparable sense of outrage locally. …
“You told me that if permission were to be denied for this event, the group would probably go across the street and get an injunction. … I am disappointed the city would be unwilling to risk the expense of a lawsuit to prevent such an offensive outrage to so many of its citizens. …
“I intend to maintain a civil and respectful demeanor throughout, but I will not be giving up on this.”
July 11, 3:24 p.m.
“I am sorry that you found my answer to queries regarding the black mass to not be satisfactory,” Couch writes.
“In the past, the City has taken action to prohibit speech based upon the supposed offensive nature of that speech. Federal courts have ordered the City to allow the speech and to pay attorney fees of those who challenged the City’s actions. These actions cost the taxpayers a substantial amount of money.
“When I became City Manager, I swore to uphold the United States Constitution. Additionally, I have a responsibility to the citizens of Oklahoma City to ensure their tax dollars are spent in a responsible manner. …
“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. … While I understand and respect your position, under the law of this nation, the fact that society may find a person’s speech offensive is simply not enough to prohibit his speech.”