As promised, I checked this morning to see if the Hoover Board of Education allows churchgoers to use its parking lot. There were no cars parked in the lot today. Good to know. You'll see why below. First, some background.
Yesterday, people from the community, including representatives from Equality Alabama, PFLAG Birmingham, Central Alabama Pride, and Covenant Community Church, gathered to protest Focus on the Family's last ever Love Won Out conference at Metropolitan Community Church (my coverage and photos here and here). We stood on public right of way in front of and across from the Hoover Board of Education building, which is located just outside the church entrance. I parked elsewhere, but some of our folks had left their cars in the otherwise empty Board of Ed lot. When I arrived just after 7:30 AM, there were several Jefferson County sheriff's deputies on hand to direct traffic. They had, as far as I know, raised no objections to the use of the parking lot.
Shortly after I got there, the Hoover Police Department showed up. The officers threatened to tow the cars of anyone parked in the lot. Some of us questioned that edict, pointing out that the lot was built and maintained with taxpayer dollars, not to mention the complete lack of No Parking signs. The officers replied that it wasn't their call and that the Board of Ed didn't want to “take sides” by allowing either conference-goers or protesters to use its lot. (In what I seriously doubt was a coincidence, around the same time someone from neighboring Lakeside Baptist came by to put orange cones across the entrances to both of its otherwise empty parking lots.)
Call me crazy, but I seriously doubt the Board of Ed member(s) who made this decision thought they'd be causing equal opportunity inconvenience. Metropolitan Church of God has acres of parking. I can't say it any better than Mooncat in comments at my Left in Alabama cross-post:
Memo to the Board of Ed.: I think you just did “take sides.” The best way to not take sides was simply to stay out of it, not send the police department down to defend your empty parking spaces.
I wondered yesterday whether the Board of Ed would be so concerned about the neutrality of its parking lot on Sunday mornings, as it's a prime spot for overflow. This morning I took a drive to check it out. As I passed Lakeside Baptist, I noticed that neither of its lots was full for its 10:30 AM service. There was a JeffCo sheriff's car parked on the side of the road between Lakeside and the intersection that leads to Metro Church of God. I drove up to the Board of Ed and, happily, found its lot empty. Then I drove on through the gates of Metro to confirm the size of its parking lot, which is huge and was nowhere near full, even though the 10:15 service was underway. There was more than enough room to accommodate the 600 people who reportedly attended yesterday's conference.
I left and then decided to go back and take some pictures. They're below the fold. You'll see the empty Board of Ed lot and also the acres of parking available at Metro Church of God. In what I sincerely hope was a coincidence, a JeffCo sheriff's car followed me home, peeling off only when I turned into the entrance to my subdivision.
It looks like the Hoover Board of Ed is guilty of gay-cootie-phobia and really bad PR instincts but not the hypocrisy I feared, if only because the neighboring churches can't even fill their own parking lots.
Hoover Board of Education empty lot
Entrance to Metropolitan Church of God
Hoover's finest protecting suburban churchgoers from, um, I don't know what — maybe a suburban mom with a camera? 🙂
Looks like there was plenty of parking available for the conference-goers — no need for them to use the taxpayer-funded lot at the Board of Ed