Las Cruces, New Mexico — September 19, 2016. The Center for Religious Expression (CRE) sent a letter today on behalf of Souls Ministries and its president, Isidro “Chilo” Salcedo, to Las Cruces officials, demanding they no longer compel Souls Ministries to affiliate with another organization as a precondition to obtaining a park permit for a festival.
For nearly 15 years, Souls Ministries has organized Kids Kindness Day, a public festival including inflatables, dunk tanks, face painting, and a wide variety of vendors geared toward children. Souls Ministries uses Kids Kindness Day as a specifically Christian outreach ministry, granting vendor booths to churches and other organizations that demonstrate the love of Christ through activities like passing out Bibles, evangelizing, and donating school supplies to needy children. Everything at Kids Kindness Day is free, and all are welcome to attend.
Each year, including this one, Souls Ministries has applied for and obtained a park permit to hold Kids Kindness Day in a public park in Las Cruces. But, on July 22, 2016, 8 days before Kids Kindness Day was scheduled to occur, the City sent a letter to Souls Ministries, warning that if they did not agree, within 3 days to provide a vendor booth to the Boy Scouts, their permit would be revoked. Because Souls Ministry could not accommodate this demand without altering its message, it declined to do so, and Las Cruces revoked the permit, effectively cancelling the event.
On behalf of Souls Ministries, CRE sent Las Cruces a letter explaining that the First Amendment protects Souls Ministries’ right to control the message it sends the community through the vendors with which it affiliates. It notes that Las Cruces is effectively prescribing what message it deems acceptable and forcing Souls Ministries to convey it. The letter simply asks Las Cruces to refrain from doing so in the future.
“The government cannot compel a Christian ministry to send a message it does not wish to send,” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “Las Cruces cannot revoke Souls Ministries’ First Amendment rights.”