SEASIDE — Liberty Counsel, a national Florida-based organization that provides free legal assistance in defense of Christian religious freedoms, asked a year and a half ago to make use of a meeting room at the public library here. The library said no.
So Liberty Counsel recently filed a federal lawsuit against the Seaside Community Library, alleging its policy on use of its meeting room violates the U.S. Constitution.
As reported by The Daily Astorian newspaper, the lawsuit filed Feb. 23 in U.S. District Court in Portland stems from a request by Benjamin Boyd of Enterprise. In August 2010 he wrote a letter seeking to use the meeting room for two hours that October. He identified himself as a volunteer with the Liberty Foundation, now known as Liberty Counsel.
In his letter, Boyd said the foundation sought “to sponsor a free evangelical outreach in Seaside” for children and that the presentation was to be from “a Christian and Biblical viewpoint.”
In response, a library employee left Boyd a voice message denying the application, according to the brief filed with the federal court in late February. The only reason given, the brief said, was that library policy prohibits religious services or proselytizing.
The brief added that the foundation phoned the library in December 2011 to inquire about using the room and was again refused.
The Florida agency claims the library policy violates the First Amendment, guaranteeing the right to free speech, and the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing equal protection.
“Of all places, a public library is supposed to welcome multiple viewpoints,” stated Mathew Staver, Liberty Counsel founder and chairman, in a press release. “This policy violates the First Amendment because it censors religious viewpoints. It is astounding that public libraries continue to have these types of unconstitutional policies.”
Contacted by the Astoria newspaper, the library’s director Reita Fackerell, said the current policy was adopted by the library board and that the City Council did not review it. Both she and City Manager Mark Winstanley referred the newspaper to City Attorney Dan Van Thiel, who could not be reached by the Astorian.
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