Residents sue Massachusetts city for removing commemorative bricks
By The Associated Press
BOSTON — Two residents are suing the city of Newburyport for
removing their commemorative bricks from a city park following complaints that
the bricks contained religious and political messages.
The two bricks, which were part of a fund-raising effort for the
children's playground in Woodman Park, were inscribed with the messages "Jesus
Loves You" and "For All the Unborn Children."
The residents, while contending that their messages were
misunderstood, charged that the city violated their constitutional rights to
freedom of speech and religion. The lawsuit was filed yesterday in U.S.
District Court in Boston.
The bricks were part of a project organized by the Friends of Woodman
Park, a community organization. With the city's permission, the project allowed
residents, for $60, to have a personal message inscribed in a brick, which was
then set in a sidewalk next to the children's playground.
But, according to Mayor Lisa Mead, shortly after the sidewalk was
unveiled last September, city officials received a couple of complaints from
residents concerned that the messages on the bricks violated the constitutional
separation of church and state and allowed controversial political messages on
"It's city property," Mead said. "Whatever's put on that property
needs to comply with the law."
She said the brick inscribed "Jesus Loves You," sponsored by Thomas
Savastano, was taken to be a religious comment. The other brick, which read "For
All the Unborn Children," was taken to be a political message against
The lawsuit, filed by Marie Cupo and Savastano, contends that Mead
ordered the community group to remove the bricks.
But Mead, who says she has not seen the suit, contends that she
requested the community organization to contact the bricks' sponsors and ask if
the bricks could be removed. She said she heard nothing more until she was
contacted by the plaintiffs' lawyers in December.
The community organization could not be reached for comment.
But the plaintiffs both want the city to replace the bricks.
"I filed my lawsuit because of a sense of being wronged," said Cupo,
who explained that she had placed the brick in memory of a child she lost in
the late stages of pregnancy two years ago, not as a political statement.
"In my mind, it was a resting place," she said.
Cupo, who says she is not involved with any political group, recalled
that the community group had contacted her to tell her the mayor said the
bricks should be removed.
The city "took somebody's heartfelt circumstances and destroyed them
without a second thought," she added.
Savastano noted that his brick's message was "just meant as an
expression of God's love."
"I have no real agenda," he said.
The suit, which claims the city violated the First and 14th
Amendments, is seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants "from
continuing with their discriminatory actions."
The residents are being represented by the Washington, D.C.-based
American Center for Law and Justice, a public-interest law firm that
specializes in cases involving religious freedom.
"If (the city) opens up the walkway, it can't pick and choose on the
basis of the content of the message," said Benjamin W. Bull, senior counsel for
the ACLJ. "This is about as clear-cut as it gets."