Free Speech Issues in the Courts NowSomervell County Salon-Glen Rose, Rainbow, Nemo, Glass....Texas


Free Speech Issues in the Courts Now

15 August 2008 at 11:45:56 AM

It's interesting that there are a number of religious lawsuits out there that test the constitutionality of some ordinances at local and state levels. Although I might not agree with some lawsuits from a religious standpoint, I'm nonetheless glad to see the lawsuits.

Here's one, for example, from Granite City, IL. A man was handing out religious flyers as handbills, in one instance in front of an abortion clinic. The guard there didn't like his doing so, and when the man put a flyer inside one of the cars, the guard called the police. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the handbill ordinances and said that the city could not restrict the *content* of what got handed out. I agree with that, even where I find handbills, most of the time to be annoying. The case is interesting to read. And it means that people that have a point of view to express, pretty much wHATEVER it is, can't be denied on the basis of the content, although a city has the right to determine some boundaries as to when and where, etc. But the City was asked to offer evidence that handbilling caused litter, intrusion, trespass and harrassment, and couldn't. Plus the court brought up the history, in this country, of using handbills to express opinions.

Next one I don't care for, but it's not whether a Christian group wants to meet in a library but singing? Maybe libraries have changed, but it used to be that when you went to a library, you were asked to BE QUIET. I don't care WHO would be singing or what they would be singing about, couldn't they be asked NOT TO DO IT? What's a little troubling is what constitutest the line between a group having a discussion and singing a song or two and having a religious service in a tax-payer funded facility. At any rate, the US District Court Southern District of Ohio ruled against a library that told this group they couldn't meet there.  Here's part of the argument

This interpretation of the Library’s policy with respect to "religious meetings" issomewhat consistent with the Library’s practices. In practice, the Library "does not enforce thispolicy," but instead "permits a wide array of religious meetings in its meeting rooms." (MooreAff. ¶ 5; Mell Aff. ¶ 9). For example, Ms. Mell, a Library Community Relations Departmentemployee, stated that the Library has approved the use of the meeting rooms for monthly churchcommittee meetings, an event discussing Islamic religion and culture, a church’s meeting todiscuss establishing a new church, and a church’s showing of religious videos. (Mell Aff. ¶ 9).

Ms. Moore, the Library’s Director, stated that the Library does, however, enforce its regulationprohibiting religious services, citing denial of a church’s request to use the meeting rooms forreligious worship services while the church was undergoing renovations. (Moore Aff. ¶ 5). TheLibrary has not defined "religious worship services," but, as evidenced in the instant case, it isthe Library’s practice to sever out and prohibit those portions of a proposed event that theLibrary concludes are "inherent elements of a religious service," and to label those elements as"religious worship services." (

, 473 U.S. at 804 (citations omitted).

A public library is a place dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, where "the worthymissions of facilitating learning and cultural enrichment" are fostered.

(b) Compatibility With Expressive Activity

The Library’s policy statements and practices make clear that the Library intended itsmeeting rooms to be fora open to a wide range of groups and to be utilized for a wide range ofexpressive activity, including meetings, discussions, lectures, and any other non-profit activitiesthat would serve the community.

The Court next considers the compatibility of the library meeting room with expressive activity. In In cases where the principal function of the property would be disrupted by expressive activity, the Court is particularly reluctant to hold that the government intended to designate a public forum. Accordingly, we have held that militaryreservations and jailhouse grounds do not constitute public fora.Cornelius 

Case 2:08-cv-00223-GCS-NMK Document 19 Filed 08/14/2008 Page 14 of 33

In summary, the Court finds that the singing and prayer elements of Plaintiff’s proposedPolitics and the Pulpit event do not constitute mere religious worship, divorced from the otherwise permissible discussion elements of Plaintiff’s event. Instead, the Court finds that the elements constitute speech conveying a religious viewpoint. Thus, the Court concludes thatDefendant’s exclusion of Plaintiff’s activities from the Library’s meeting rooms, pursuant to itspractice of severing out and excluding activities it concludes are "inherent elements of areligious service," constitutes unlawful viewpoint discrimination, and consequently violatesPlaintiff’s First Amendment free speech rights.

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