The Alliance Defense Fund, a coalition of religious-rights attorneys, filed suit July 31 on behalf of a Christian ministry that claims it was unconstitutionally denied meeting-room access by Contra Costa County (Calif.) Library because it intended to hold a religious service at the Antioch branch. The Faith Center Church Evangelistic Ministries has named the library and the county board as defendants in its challenge to the constitutionality of the library’s policy barring the use of meeting rooms for religious purposes.
“It’s really shocking to me that the county would have a written policy denying this group access to this room,” Alamo attorney Terry Thompson said in the July 31 Contra Costa Times. County Supervisor John Gioia countered by saying, “I’m frankly surprised that a group would sue the county claiming that it has a right to hold religious meetings on county property. I don’t think the public wants its money spent to advance or oppose any religion.”
Hattie Hopkins, leader of the Sacramento-based ministry, told the Pleasanton Tri-Valley Herald that after the meeting she held at the Antioch branch May 29, library staff told her that her July 31 meeting-room reservation had to be canceled if the event was to be for the same purpose. “We understand they have concerns, and we are looking into the situation,” Deputy County Librarian Laura O’Donoghue told the Herald. “In the meantime, we do have an established policy for reserving our meeting rooms, and that policy prohibits religious services.”
Since 2000, several libraries in Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin have had their meeting-room policies challenged for barring sectarian gatherings.