Christians have been charged with discrimination for exercising their religion in the running of flower shops, photography studios and bakeries, and now they’re allegedly the victims of discrimination themselves through the policy of a Massachusetts library.
A non-profit evangelical legal group has sued Lawrence, Massachusetts, over the public library’s refusal to allow Christian groups to use its meeting rooms to discuss their faith.
The facility allows a wide range of interest groups to use the rooms but refused an application from Liberty Counsel for a civil and educational program that included “religious content.”
The library’s policy states: “Religious groups may use the library’s meeting rooms for administrative purposes but shall not be allowed use for the sake of proselytizing … or otherwise influencing people to a particular belief or point of view.”
That’s even though the mission statement for the library is: “The freedom to pursue knowledge is a foundation of our democracy. … [T]he Library exists to preserve the free development and expression of ideas essential for an informed citizenry.”
Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, said the “religious viewpoint discrimination not only violates the library’s own mission statement, but it is simply unconstitutional.”
He said the Supreme Court already has struck down multiple attempts by local governments to impose more restrictions on religious groups than on other groups.
“Public libraries, once open forums of free expression and thought, are being used by so called ‘progressives’ to censor or suppress the right of individuals to speak on political and moral issues of the day,” Staver pointed out. “When political correctness uses the government to enforce its sense of morality, Liberty Counsel gets involved.”
But a spokeswoman confirmed the policy forbids the use of public meeting rooms for religious groups when they want to “proselytize.”
The lawsuit, in U.S. District Court in Boston, explained Liberty Counsel was seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions against the city and its agents regarding enforcement of the policy.
The policy violates the 14th Amendment and the Free Speech Clause, Free Exercise Clause and Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the case asserts.
The complaint explains that as part of its educational mission, Liberty Counsel conducts lectures around the country where cultural issues, family issues and religious subjects are discussed in the context of the judicial system, American history, constitutional and civil rights and the role of religion.
“In particular, Liberty Counsel promotes a Christian view of the founding of the United States of America,” it says.
But when Liberty Counsel contacted the library about using a meeting room that previously had been available to a wide range of groups, it was denied permission.
The policy “expressly prohibits religious groups from using library meeting rooms if their program includes expression of a religious viewpoint,” the complaint says.
The complaint notes that library Director Maureen Nimmo specifically said the library practices “would prohibit Liberty Counsel from presenting its educational and civic program on the founding era from a Christian viewpoint.”
Library officials bluntly told Liberty Counsel to look elsewhere for meeting rooms.
The complaint states, “The city violated Liberty Counsel’s right to free speech by refusing to allow Liberty Counsel to reserve a library meeting room to conduct an educational program from a Christian viewpoint, while the city permits other nonprofit organizations to reserve the city’s library meeting rooms and use them for non-religious discussions of cultural, civic, educational and other issues.”
The case seeks a change in policy and practice at the library and nominal damages.