Lawsuit Compels Ohio Library to End Public Use of Meeting Rooms

Lawsuit Compels Ohio Library to End Public Use of Meeting Rooms

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a coalition of religious-rights attorneys, filed a lawsuit June 4 against the Clermont County (Ohio) Public Library board of trustees for refusing to allow a financial planning seminar in a meeting room because presenters intended to quote scripture. Religious discussions were not allowed in the meeting rooms according to library policy. In response, library trustees voted June 9 to change that policy, limiting the use of meeting rooms to library-run programs, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported June 13.

“We regret that this policy change will have the effect of not allowing the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, and other nonprofit groups the ability to use our meeting rooms,” board President Joe Braun said.

The lawsuit was filed in the federal district court in Cincinnati on behalf of George and Cathy Vandergriff and the Institute for Principled Policy, an Ohio-based religious public policy organization.

“The denial sends the message to the Vandergriffs and other Christians that they are not deemed a valuable part of the community,” ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot said in a June 6 press release. “Christians have the same First Amendment rights as anyone else in America.”

“It is our belief that the suit is moot at this point,” said Braun after the library changed its policy. However, David Langdon, attorney for the Vandergriffs, believes the constitutional rights of his clients were violated and intends to seek compensatory damages.

This is not the first time that religious-freedom legal defense groups have become involved in contesting library meeting room policies. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court refused ADF’s request to repeal a library worship ban at Contra Costa (Calif.) Library’s Antioch branch. Liberty Counsel, another faith-based law firm, has also sued over library meeting-room policies in states including Colorado, Florida, Texas, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.

“If libraries have opened their meeting rooms to the public, they should be cautious about excluding religious groups from their meeting rooms,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told American Libraries. “In the Contra Costa case, the Court of Appeals itself cautioned that the library could not prohibit religious groups from engaging in other religious activities, including reading, Bible discussions, Bible instruction, praying, singing, sharing testimony, and discussing political or social issues.”

Posted on June 13, 2008. Discuss.