By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
July 23, 2015
RALEIGH – In April of this year, the Christian law organization, Liberty Counsel, sued Wake County over its public library’s unconstitutional policy of denying access to civic and educational programs that include religious content. Libraries are supposed to offer meeting rooms free of charge, but the Cameron Village Regional Library policy discriminated on the basis of religious content and viewpoint. The policy specifically stated that “religious instruction, services or ceremonies are not permitted.”
Liberty Counsel applied twice to use the meeting rooms in Cameron Village Regional Library, once in 2013 and again in 2014, but was denied both times. The library’s director specified the request was being denied because the proposed program contained a religious component.
According to the Raleigh News and Observer (N&O), Harry Mihet, vice president of legal affairs for Liberty Counsel, said that “[e]vent leaders hoped to open the hour-long program with a prayer, quote extensively from the Bible and talk about the founding fathers’ religious views.”
Mihet also told the N&O, “We emphasize the fact that the founders were motivated by their religious beliefs.”
Wake County’s community services director said that Wake changed the policy in May and a settlement was reached between the two sides in June. “U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan ordered Wake to pay the Liberty Counsel $100 in damages. Other terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed in court documents, but Mihet said Wake also paid some of the group’s legal costs and changed its policy ‘as a direct result of litigation,’” reports the N&O.
Liberty Counsel noted in a previous statement that any policy that expressly prohibits meetings based on the religious viewpoint of the program is unconstitutional. Cameron Village Regional Library was violating its own mission by denying the citizens of the county the pursuit of knowledge concerning America’s history, particularly the nation’s religious foundation.
The statement added, “Of all places, a public library should not only understand but strive to uphold the First Amendment, rather than engaging in censorship. It is astounding that public libraries continue to have these types of unconstitutional policies.”
Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said Christian groups in every county in our state would do well to check the policy of their own county or city library.
“If a public library opens its facilities to be used by the general public, it creates a designated or limited public forum. Whenever this occurs, religious groups must receive equal treatment,” said Dr. Creech.
Dr. Creech went on to say these same principles of “equal access” apply to the public schools for after-hours use of school property.
“If a school offers use of its facilities to secular groups but denies use of the same facilities to religious groups, the Supreme Court has ruled they are in violation of the First Amendment,” said Dr. Creech. “If Christian organizations or church groups find their library or school policy denies ‘equal access,’ then they should contact the Christian Action League so we can help them connect with a great Christian legal team like Liberty Counsel. These groups are available to provide pro-bono legal assistance on such issues.”
Mihet told the N&O, “Liberty Counsel has had to sue government bodies in several states to use public facilities such as libraries, city halls and schools.”