NEWS STORY: Complaint Forces End to Mass Announcements at Denver Airport

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c. 2000 Religion News Service

DENVER _ Roman Catholic Masses are no longer announced over the public address system at Denver International Airport because a traveler complained the announcements were a violation of the separation of church and state.

That’s prompted a complaint from Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput.

The city, which operates the airport, is working on a response to his letter, said Lee Marable, DIA attorney.

“We’ll be telling the archbishop that we plan to check with other airports to see what their policy is and whether there is anything illegal in the announcements,” said Marable.

Marable, who was out of the office, said he didn’t remember who wrote to complain about the announcements and didn’t have the letter in front of him. “We’re perplexed,” said Greg Kail, spokesman for the Denver Archdiocese. “But we’re confident something can be worked out and the announcments can start again. We’ve always had a good relationship with DIA.”

Kail said he could see “no excessive government entanglement with religion” by announcing Mass times at DIA. The announcements seem like a “reasonable service to employees and passengers.”

“This is a straight First Amendment case that will be won in court if necessary,”according to William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. “The issue is not the establishment clause, but freedom of speech.

Noon Masses are held each Sunday and on holy days of obligation and communion services are at noon on Mondays and Wednesdays.

The Mass announcements “were pretty innocuous,” said Chuck Cannon, DIA spokesman. They weren’t constant, he said, but made only before a Mass or communion service, something like “Catholic Mass begins in 15 minutes in the chapel.”

He said he suspended the announcements by order of DIA attorneys.

No other religious group that shares the two-room chapel _ Protestants, Jews or Muslims _ has regular services, but local religious leaders sided with the archbishop.

“It seems to me that the announcment of a service ought to be part of it,” said the Rev. Lucia Guzman, who served on the board that covers the interfaith chapel. “People are coming through an airport for all types of reasons, including crisis times in their lives,” said Guzman, former director of the Colorado Council of Churches. “Do we have to wait for an emergency at the airport to be able to announce a religious service?”

Muslims don’t have services at the chapel, but Muslim employees and passengers stop in to pray if they are at DIA at one of the five times a day when Muslims are required to pray.

Rabbi Steven Kaye, president of the interfaith board that operates the chapel, said there have been a handful of questions about why the airport would have a chapel, “But I have received a lot more `thank you’s’ from people about the announcement of Masses,” he said.

But the ACLU believes the announcements “are a breach of the separation of church and state” unless each religion gets equal billing. Sue Armstrong, executive director of the Denver office, said signs about the chapel ought to suffice.

But in fact there are no directional signs to the chapel. There is only the sign outside the chapel.

Some airports have signs directing people to the chapel, according to the Rev. D. D. Hayes, chaplain at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. He said no one has ever complained about announcement of religious services there. The sprawling airport actually has three chapels for its five terminals and 14 chaplains of various faiths, most of which have services each week.

Hayes, a member of the International Association of Aviation Chaplains, said no one in the group has ever reported complaints about religious service announcements.

The DIA interfaith chapel was paid for by DIA Interfaith Chapel, Inc.,

which is composed of Christians, Jews and Muslims. One room of the chapel is for Muslims and the other for Christians and Jews. The organization leases the space from DIA.

The chapel is often used by religous groups passing through or going on pilgrimmages and occasionally for a wedding or memorial service of an airline or DIA employee, Kaye said.


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