Christian-Rights Group Sues over Nixed Library Meeting

January 20, 2003

Liberty Counsel, a legal defense organization that champions religious free speech, filed suit January 9 against the city of Dunedin, Florida, because the public library there declined its meeting-room requests on two occasions. The applications disclosed that a proposed “America’s Christian heritage” event would include a discussion of the influence of the Ten Commandments on the U.S. legal code. Library officials responded that its policy forbids gatherings “of a political, religious, or formal social nature.”

“Government officials may not forbid the use of common meeting rooms, otherwise open to the general public, to persons or groups desiring to address a subject from a religious or Christian viewpoint,” stated Liberty Counsel President Mathew D. Staver. In the past few years, Staver has successfully represented several plaintiffs against libraries in Florida and Wisconsin for refusing sectarian gatherings in their meeting rooms. He has another suit pending in Abilene, Texas.

Several months earlier, Tarpon Springs (Fla.) Library turned down a meeting-room reservation from the local chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State because the group had invited several political candidates to speak. The library has since banned all events effective October 1, except those it sponsors.

Describing the Dunedin and Tarpon Springs libraries as “secular facilities,” attorney John Hubbard, who represents both cities, said in the January 13 St. Petersburg Times, “Religious services or partisan political activities in these publicly funded rooms are not appropriate.”