Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Library Gets Religion; ALA Right Again

Took five years, but another library finally got religion.

From "Court Rules Against Contra Costa County on Use of Library Room for Religion," by John Simerman, Contra Costa Times, 22 June 2009:

The meeting room at the county library branch in Antioch has been booked for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, American Idol auditions, gospel play rehearsals, even a party to celebrate National Hot Dog Month.

Now, religious groups are free to worship there, too.

A federal district court judge on Friday barred Contra Costa County from enforcing a ban on religious services in the room, nearly five years after Faith Center Church Evangelistic Ministries sued after being shut out of the room.

The issue for Judge Jeffrey White was not the ban on worship. A federal appeals court panel in 2006 ruled that the county could exclude certain categories of speech in the room, including religious services, without running afoul of First Amendment rights.

But the devil is in the details: The county, White wrote, cannot figure out how to enforce the ban — how to distinguish worship from speech with a religious viewpoint — without excessively delving into religion.


The American Library Association [ALA] weighed in on the matter that led to this, and once again, I'll have to give credit to the ALA. From "Battles over Meeting Rooms," by Doug Archer, OIF Blog [ALA], 15 June 2009:

Libraries are about providing a place where people can read, listen to, view and otherwise access whatever they wish — from serious research to recreation. In collections of books, videos and CDs this is pretty obvious. What's so different about meeting rooms? If a community group wants to gather in a public room for a legal purpose, why should we care what their point of view is? As long as no single group or view point is allowed to monopolize a limited resource like a public meeting space what difference should it make to us as keepers of the space?

What should we do? Simple, set up a set of content neutral rules that mandate appropriate behavior and apply them to all community groups — dog lovers, cat fanciers, lepidopterists, gun collectors, philatelists, cooks, political parties, advocacy groups, the Klan, even church groups!

The ALA called it right. Bravo!

See also, "Meeting Rooms: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights," by ALA Council, American Library Association, 2 July 1991, ISBN 8389-7550-X.


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