A pro-life activist is challenging a public library’s policy to block access by people who have protested against Planned Parenthood.
The Waco, Texas, library system includes a facility run by Planned Parenthood of Central Texas that can be visited by appointment only.
The lead plaintiff in a suit filed yesterday by the United States Justice Foundation criticized city officials for allowing an “unholy alliance” between Waco, Planned Parenthood and the library.
“By granting them this status, the city of Waco gives credence and legitimacy to an odious organization – one that slays the unborn for blood money, promotes a racist, genocidal agenda, spreads immorality and provides a safe haven for pedophiles who abuse our children,” said the Rev. Rusty Thomas, who heads a group called Elijah Ministries.
Thomas also has served as associate director of Operation Save America, the national pro-life group known formerly as Operation Rescue.
The suit, filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, claims Thomas’s constitutional rights of speech, peaceable assembly, expressive conduct and free exercise have been violated.
Lead attorney Richard Ackerman says he is seeking damages and an injunction forcing Planned Parenthood to give equal access to the “public library” that it operates out of its clinic.
“If they cannot do that, they need to shut down and return any ill-gotten gains to the public,” he said.
The Audre Rapoport Library in Waco requires patrons to telephone ahead for an appointment from Planned Parenthood of Central Texas, which according to the policy, “reserves the right to deny access to … anyone who has participated in protests against Planned Parenthood.”
Betty Crook, chairwoman of the Waco-McLennan County library commission, insisted that some people are mischaracterizing the relationship between the city and Planned Parenthood.
“I do feel irritated they keep saying it’s a branch of the library system,” said Crook in an interview with the Waco Tribune-Herald last fall. “It isn’t. The contract said it was specifically not to be a joint venture. There are no city employees working there. It’s just a way residents can have access to some of those materials.”
Gary Kreep, USJF’s executive director, argues that “libraries are supposed to be for the use of all citizens.”
“They are not supposed to be the private property of a profit-making entity, such as Planned Parenthood, to allow and deny access as they please,” he said.
Kreep, noting that taxpayer funds are going to Planned Parenthood, contends that the policy denies a “whole class of people, simply because of their religious beliefs, access to a branch of the public library,” which “violates the United States Constitution and common sense.”
According to Planned Parenthood, the “one-of-kind” library – related to reproductive health and sexuality – has about 1,000 books, pamphlets, curricula, teaching aides and educational videos. It also has access to the catalogue system for Waco libraries.
The complaint says that during an “open house” for the library on Oct. 28, Thomas was prevented by security personnel from entering the facilty to review materials with “a group of protesters directly associated with him.”
The suit claims that denial of access was expressed based on the fact that Thomas and his associates had protested in front of abortion clinics. No determination was ever made by library operators that the plaintiffs posed any actual threat, the complaint said.
Waco City Manager Kathy Rice told the Tribune-Herald that a former library director made the agreement without input from the library board. She said the council knew about the arrangement but was not required to approve it because the amount of money involved was less than $10,000.
Planned Parenthood agreed to pay the city a few hundred dollars a year to post materials on the library catalog system, Rice told the Waco paper.
Rice, noting that some people have questioned whether the library should catalog books from non-profit agencies, said similar future agreements will have to get approval from both the city council and the library board.