If a public library allows groups to meet in its building, must it allow groups like the Ku Klux Klan? Can it set guidelines?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

While no cases have dealt directly with the KKK and public libraries, similar cases have dealt with the underlying issue of whether individuals affiliated with religious or groups may have access to public facilities for meeting purposes. These cases demonstrate how courts will often look to see what kind of groups the public facility has allowed access to in the past. If the facility has allowed access to similar groups but has denied the current group’s request, then the court will often hold that viewpoint discrimination has been committed and that the denial violates the First Amendment.

For example, a case decided in 2006 dealt with religious worship services in rooms in a public library. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Faith Center Church Evangelistic Ministries v. Glover that city libraries can refuse to allow religious groups to worship in public meeting rooms. In this case, the Bush administration filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Faith Center Church Evangelistic Ministries, stating that the government “has an interest in enforcement of First Amendment principles providing equal treatment of persons irrespective of their religious beliefs.”

In the 2001 decision Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Milford, N.Y., school officials violated the Christian Bible club’s First Amendment rights by not allowing them to use school facilities for after-school meetings. The Court reasoned that the school committed viewpoint discrimination against the Bible club since the school had previously allowed other community and school groups to use the facilities.

In Moore v. City of Van, 238 F. Supp. 2d 837 (E.D. Tex. 2003), a group of individuals wanted to use a portion of the town’s public community center for a meeting that would involve religious songs and prayers. The federal district court held that the city violated the First Amendment rights of these individuals by denying them the right to use the community center for such purposes. The court explained that, on its face, the facilities-use policy did not contain exclusions, therefore making the center a public forum. However, in the past “the City has been consistent in denying use of the Center for religious purposes.” This is viewpoint discrimination and is in violation of the First Amendment.

In the 2005 decision Bronx Household of Faith v. NYC Board of Education¸ a federal district court ruled that the city of New York must allow religious groups to rent space in public schools for meetings. The court held that preventing the Bronx Household of Faith from meeting at the school was in violation of the group’s right to free expression. The group had wanted to hold Sunday meetings in a public school, and according to the U.S. District Court’s ruling, the city must allow them to do so.