It all started back in 2004, when the Faith Center Church Evangelistic Ministries went to the Contra Costa County Library's Antioch branch, and asked to use the meeting room. They were refused, because the library had a ban on religious services in the room. A preliminary injunction prevented the library from enforcing the policy, but in 2006, a Circuit Court agreed that "barring worship services from the library’s meeting rooms was a permissible exclusion of a category of speech.” The church filed an appeal, and went back to U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White, the judge who had granted the preliminary injunction in 2004. White said in an opinion on June 19 that "the policy put library managers into an unconstitutional position of deciding what constitutes religious services when considering applications to use its meeting rooms, which are open to public use."
In Ohio, a public library was sued for not allowing a Christian fundamentalist group to hold services there, and back in August a judge ruled that "prohibiting activities that [the library] concludes are "inherent elements of a religious service" or elements that are "quintessentially religious" is unconstitutional."
Here's where I'm puzzled. As an entity that accepts funding from the government, most libraries should be in a position of determining what constitutes religious services. They're in this position not because they want to repress people's freedom of speech, but because they must determine whether the use of a publicly funded room falls within the guidelines of the Establishment Clause.
Not only that, but what about the fact that a library is... well, a library? It's supposed to be a reasonably quiet place where we can read, do homework, maybe surf the Internet or whatever. If some group wants to meet there, that's fine, but do they have to allow any and all comers? What if a religious group's meeting includes chanting, drumming, and generally whooping it up? What if a white supremacist group wants to meet there? The ability to make a decision about the proper use of their meeting room has been taken away from the library, and this seems unfair to library patrons. It will be interesting to see if Contra Costa appeals Judge White's decision.
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