Sunday, September 24, 2006

California Library Discriminates Against Christians

It’s not at all surprising in California.

A public library in Contra Costa County has a public meeting room. It has routinely allowed all kinds of organizations to hold all kinds of meetings there, but outlawed a worship service.
Contra Costa County did not intrude on religious freedom when it barred a church from holding prayer services in a meeting room of the Antioch library, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday in a case that drew arguments from the Bush administration in support of the church.

In a 2-1 decision, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said that the Faith Center Church Evangelistic Ministries had the right to hold religious discussions in a room that was open to other community groups, but that the county could prohibit it from conducting worship services.

“The county has a legitimate interest in ... excluding meeting room activities that may interfere with the library’s primary function as a sanctuary for reading, writing and quiet contemplation,” and in preventing the room from being “transformed into an occasional house of worship,” Judge Richard Paez said in the majority opinion.

He acknowledged that there may be little difference between prayer services and other types of meetings by religious groups in some cases, and said judges and government agencies are not competent to make such distinctions. But in this case, Paez said, Faith Center itself described its planned library gathering as one for “praise and worship.”

Judge Richard Tallman stressed the same issue in his dissenting opinion. “Separating religious worship from other religious speech inevitably leads to state entanglement in religion” and is beyond the government’s authority, he said.

The Bush administration entered the case on the side of the church, arguing last fall that barring worship services, while allowing social and political groups to meet at the library, would violate the religious group’s freedom of expression.

“Religious worship is also communicative,” the Justice Department said in its brief. “Hymns and prayers are expressions among believers, and to observers, of their common faith.”

A lawyer for Faith Center said he would appeal Wednesday’s ruling.

“The effect of this decision is to treat Christians and all religious people, who might want to worship in an otherwise public meeting room in a public library, as second-class citizens,” said attorney Gary McCaleb of the Alliance Defense Fund.

But Deputy County Counsel Kelly Flanagan said the county was concerned that allowing prayer services in a public building would amount to an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.

“We think a library and a church are different things and should stay different,” Flanagan said.

Meeting rooms at the Antioch library, at 501 West 18th St., have been used by community and political groups, including the Sierra Club and a local Democratic Party chapter. The county initially banned all religious activities in the rooms, but, after Faith Center filed suit, modified the exclusion in December 2004 to prohibit only religious services.
Of course, a library and a political meeting house are different things too. Yet the library is quite happy to be a political meeting house.

This is nothing more nor less than discrimination against Christians, in a liberal California county.

And it was approved by the same liberal Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals what said the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are unconstitutional.


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