Blind woman accuses RI library, park of banning her over handing out Christian literature

The Westerly Library and Wilcox Park of Westerly, Rhode Island, which is overseen by the Memorial and Library Association.
The Westerly Library and Wilcox Park of Westerly, Rhode Island, which is overseen by the Memorial and Library Association. | Facebook/Westerly Library & Wilcox Park

A blind woman filed a complaint against a Rhode Island park and library nonprofit, accusing it of discrimination by banning her from its grounds because she handed out religious literature.

Gail Blair, a 63-year-old woman who has been blind since 1991, was reportedly banned last summer from Westerly Library and Wilcox Park by the Memorial and Library Association, which oversees the public property.

According to the suit, filed Tuesday before the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, Blair would hand out copies of the Gospel of John and engage in religious conversations with other visitors.

“I do not follow people and harangue them. I do not argue with those who wish to end any conversation I might initiate. I do not carry around a can seeking donations for myself or for my church,” said Blair, as recorded in the complaint.

“From time to time I attempt to start a conversation with passersby, and if they are willing, I offer them a copy of the Gospel of John and explain my beliefs. I have had many positive interactions with men and women that I’ve met in this way.”

Blair argued in the complaint that she believed the Library Association “discriminated against me on the basis of my disability, my religion, and my religious message.”

“The Association can only access the vast quantity of taxpayer money it receives because it has agreed to remain a space of free and open public discourse,” she continued.

“I respectfully request that the Commission intercede and require the Memorial and Library Association to make amends for their unlawful discrimination, and to permit me to return to the park and library to make full use of its accommodations and services, including through peaceful, civil, and non-confrontational conversations about Jesus.”

Jeremy Dys of First Liberty Institute, which is helping to represent Blair, denounced the alleged actions of the Library Association as “outrageous and discriminatory.”

“No government entity should ban anyone — let alone a gentle, blind woman — for simply carrying on conversations about her faith and giving them a copy of the Gospel of John in a public park,” said Dys in a statement released Wednesday.

The Library Association has denied any wrongdoing in the matter, posting a statement to Facebook on Wednesday in which it labeled the claim “one-sided” and “unsubstantiated.”

“We vehemently deny any claims of discrimination or wrongdoing. We do not engage in nor tolerate any forms of discrimination,” it stated.

“All proper procedures and policies are followed in regards to any and all incidents that take place on our property.”

The association concluded that it remains "committed to serving all patrons and the surrounding communities with upmost honor and dignity.”

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