You are here

What's wrong with praying in a library?

In The Bakersfield Californian Marylee Shrider asks What's wrong with praying in a library?.

"Freedom of religious expression and equal access is a constitutional right of every American. So, unless the congregants of Hopkins' Faith Center Church are of a serpent-handling sect, have the volume turned up on their tambourines or are attempting to proselytize book-reading bystanders, it's not the business of Contra Costa County or even the 9th District Court of Appeals to determine when their "speech" crosses that invisible frontier into "service."


Praying and religious services should be done only at churches, mosques, temples, etc. They exist for that function. They do not exist for playing lawn bowls. Everyone has freedom to play lawn bowls! Similarly, the library does not exist for religious services. Everything has an appropriate time and place.

Dithering on about threats and incitement doesn't address the fundamental, Constitutional need for the public library to provide access to its materials and facilities in a non-discriminatory fashion. One's religious belief - or lack thereof - cannot be a reason to deny access to publicly funded facilities that the individual is otherwise eligible to use. Think about it. Should there be a religious test for using library facilities? That is, should a librarian's prejudices about forms of worship and religious belief control whether one group or another gets access? "Oh, you're Quakers and nice and quiet, so you get in, but you look like the types who'll have that holy roller stuff and call for taking over the government, so you don't get in."If a library doesn't want to become a regular place of worship for a particular congregation, there are means of assuring that without engaging in discrimination. That is, make rules that no group can use the library more than once a month; use amplification; alter the meeting room space; solicit funds; etc. Applying such rules to every group makes sure that the library doesn't become a place of worship (or, a place of business or a clubhouse) while providing community groups with the occasional public meeting space that is needed to support activity in the community.

The problem is that sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between a belief and a call to action. Promoting a belief can promote someone to act on that belief, which has an effect of a call to action. For example, if you preach a belief that America is evil and have sympathy for Al-Qaeda, that belief is "free speech". It is not a direct call to action, but it may trigger someone to an act, eg. a terrorist act. So the question is: how far to you allow such a dangerous belief to be expressed even though it may lead to terrorist acts?

Well if it was preaching a belief and not an actualy call to action or raising money to send to buy arms then surely it'd be protected?
You can believe what you like, it's only when that belief impinges on other elements, eg law (local, state, federal) that it becomes a problem.
This is why you have associations like NAMBLA, they can legally exist, it's only when they act on their beliefs they cross the line. All protected under the constitution right?

What I'm wondering is why didn't the church hold the workshop in their own building? They must have read the rules of the Library and just felt like a fight.

What if the speech promoted terrorism and support for Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden and hate for America? Do you let this kind of thing unchecked?

Here is a link to the Ninth Circuit's order denying en banc review, with a dissent explaining more fully why the decision to uphold the library's policy is constitutionally suspect.

But Catholic churches and Buddhist temples are not publically-funded government agencies. The public library is such a creature. Therefore, having opened up space for public meetings, the library has created a type of public forum that must be operated pursuant to the First Amendment. And one of the fundamentals of the First Amendment is that you can't regulate speech on the basis of its content.Yes, freedom of religion does mean freedom from religion, but it doesn't permit government discrimination against religious groups who are otherwise eligible to use the government-funded facility. As long as the group meets the time, place, and manner policies required, the religious group should have an equal opportunity to use the space as the local garden club or local atheists' organization.Moreover, given the opinions handed down by the Supreme Court in similar situations (i.e., bible clubs using public school space for after school activities) I suspect that it's a better than even chance that the Ninth Circuit's decision will be overturned.

Of course, religious freedom is a basic human right. The problem is that religion is not content-neutral. Most religions are biased in favour of their own. The aim of most religions is to convert as many people to their religion. For this reason alone, libraries should not allow religious services to be carried out in libraries. A mosque will not allow Christian services to be held there. A Catholic church will not allow Buddhist services to be held there. So where is the religious freedom there? A mosque or a church itself does not uphold "religious freedom".

And protests should only be done in designated free speech zones. And books mentioning scrota should not be in open library stacks, but special places that are reserved for that function. And...Free exercise of religion, and free speech towards that end, are explicit constitutional rights. Yes, libraries should be free to enact content-neutral regulations to help them carry out their mission (including rules meant to prevent noise, disruption, disturbance of other patrons, monopolizing of resources, solicitation of money, etc.) Lawn bowling, to use your example, would be disruptive and damaging in an inside meeting room, for instamce.But targeting certain kinds of meetings simply because they're religious is the sort of content-sensitive restriction of speech and assembly that libraries are usually very careful *not* to get into.

I love to see librarians and other elites using the Socratic method to decide what the law is! The case law history -- especially Supreme Court cases -- on this question of public meeting space amply, amply, amply supports the church group's position and demolishes the stance of the Ninth Circuit, a District Court that is, by the way, almost as out of touch with our constitutional freedoms as IFRT and SRRT.