Calif. county ordered to let church use library

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge has ordered a Contra Costa County library to
open its doors to a religious group.

County officials had barred the Faith Center Church Evangelistic Ministries
from meeting in the library’s Antioch branch because they said the group
violated the library’s ban on religious services in its meeting rooms.

The church filed suit in 2004, and U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White granted
a preliminary injunction barring the library from enforcing the policy. But the
9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006 overturned that decision, ruling that
barring worship services from the library’s meeting rooms was “a permissible
exclusion of a category of speech.”

After the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the church’s appeal, the case
returned to White, who ruled June 19 in Faith Center Church
Evangelistic Ministries v. Glover
that the policy resulted in excessive
entanglement of government with religion.

White found that, although the 9th Circuit said certain forms of expression could be banned, the policy put library managers into an unconstitutional
position of deciding what constitutes religious services when considering
applications to use its meeting rooms, which are open to public use.

Groups such as the Sierra Club, Narcotics Anonymous and a production company
conducting auditions for the television show “American Idol” were allowed to use
the meeting rooms.

The San Jose Mercury News put it this way: “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.”

White’s order will take effect July 6.

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