Ore. Public Library Sued for Denying Meeting Room to Faith-Based Group

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By Eryn Sun, Christian Post Reporter
March 1, 2012|9:01 am

A faith-based nonprofit organization recently filed a lawsuit against a public library in Oregon for denying the use of a meeting room because of their religious nature.

Allegedly discriminating on the basis of religious content and viewpoint, the Public Library of Seaside faces charges for violating the First Amendment rights of the Liberty Counsel which tried to hold an educational meeting at the library that included religious content, but was denied from doing so.

"Of all places, a public library is supposed to welcome multiple viewpoints," Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said. "It is astounding that public libraries continue to have these types of unconstitutional practices."

Under the library's policy, meeting rooms, which are offered free of charge for nonprofit groups like Liberty Counsel, were not to be used for "religious services or proselytizing."

When Liberty Counsel, a religious civil liberties education and legal defense group, applied for use of a meeting room in 2010, their application was denied.

The only reason provided by a library employee was that the group's proposed use of the room was considered a "use for religious services or proselytizing," which was strictly prohibited by policy.

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According to legal documents, the Counsel wanted to hold an educational program that would "help children grow up to become responsible individuals through shaping their moral consciousness from a Biblical point of view."

The library, however, rejected their application because the group intended to use the room for educational training from a religious perspective.

A few months later, the nonprofit called the library once again inquiring about the possibility of using the meeting room for a presentation in the near future that would be similar to their first proposal.

An employee, however, stated that their policy was still in effect and that he saw no reason for the organization to apply for use of the room because it would not be approved.

Liberty Counsel argues that the Seaside Library has permitted other groups and nonprofit organizations to use the library meeting room to discuss social, historical or cultural issues from a secular viewpoint.

But their restriction on religious groups appeared to be a "blatant violation of ... constitutional rights."

"The policy, on its face and as applied, denies equal treatment to LC ... shows hostility toward LC's religious beliefs ... discriminates against LC on the basis of content and viewpoint ... [and] violates LC's express constitutional rights," the organization contended.

"LC has and will continue to suffer damages as a result of the library's actions because LC must divert its resources and efforts from its mission of education and legal defense in order to bring this action to protect its own fundamental rights."

The group still desires to use a meeting room in the future to provide information about educating children from a biblical perspective, which they cannot do until the policy is struck down.

They are asking the court to issue a preliminary and permanent injunction enjoining the library from enforcing their "unconstitutional" policy, and a declaratory judgment stating that their policy on religious prohibition is invalid.

"The library must allow LC to hold public meetings in a meeting room without regard to the religious viewpoint or content of LC's message, on the same terms and conditions as any other group that is permitted to use the room."

When asked why public places like schools and libraries were becoming increasingly more hostile to religious organizations like his own, Staver told The Christian Post there were two reasons.

"First is ignorance of the law and the wrong assumption that Christian or religious views must be banned," he noted. "Second, there is an increasing secularization of the culture and an increasing clashing with Judeo-Christian values."

He commented that it would only get worse if Christians did not push back.

Staver believes that his organization will win the lawsuit brought against the library, which has also banned other groups that have a religious viewpoint from use of the facilities.

Calls made to the Public Library of Seaside by The Christian Post were directed to county attorney Dan Van Thiel who did not immediately respond to inquiries for comment.

 

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