Monday, June 9, 2008

Test Your Library Legal IQ

The Smallville Public Library opened its doors at their new building on February 1, 2008. The library has three public meeting rooms and makes each available to the public during operational hours. The library’s goal in making these rooms available is “to encourage the use of library meeting rooms for educational, cultural, and community related meetings, programs and activities.” The library’s meeting room policy states that “non-profit and civic organization, for-profit organizations, schools and government organizations may use the space for meetings, programs or activities of educational, cultural or community interest.” The library regulates the meeting rooms in the following ways:

1. Rooms are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
2. The applicant must submit and application that identifies the applicant and the purpose of the meeting.
3. Access to the meeting room is contingent upon approval by the library staff.
4. A fee must be paid when a meeting is not open to the general public, when it charges an admission fee, or when it involves sales or solicitation.
5. Schools may not utilize a meeting room for instructional purposes as a regular part of the curriculum.
6. Rooms may not be used for religious services.

On June 1, 2008, the Miniseries of Faith Evangelical Church completed an application for three separate meeting rooms on three separate days. The first meeting was entitled “Wordshop” and was described as follows: “The Making of an Intercessor, an endtime call to prayer for every believer, and how to pray fervent, effectual prayers that God hears and answers.” Wordshop was devoted to the topic of communication and how to communicate effectively with one’s god. The second meeting was called “Praise and Worship” and included a sermon by the church’s pastor. This meeting involved pure religious services. The third meeting was a Bible study. It was described as “A gathering of readers engaged in an in-depth study of the Holy Bible.”

Should the Smallville Public Library allow the Ministries of Faith Evangelical Church access to the meeting rooms for any or all of the three meetings upon payment of the required fee?

Note: This scenario is hypothetical although not without legal premise. Please post your comments and questions.


Brenda Ealey said...

Well, I've got a couple of questions:
1. Are they charging a fee because it's solicitation? Your scenario doesn't mention that the Faith Evangelical Church is not opening it to the public, or that they are charging a fee. But the reason for the fee if it is solicitation I think would be difficult to substantiate. They don't seem to be recruiting members.
2. And, secondly, can they restrict in their meeting room policy based on content - which would seem to be what they're doing with number six - rooms may not be used for religious services?? I think if they could connect it to time, place and/or manner they'd be okay - right?

Steve Fosselman said...

Our City Attorney advised us to place in our meeting room policy the following language pertaining to this non-permitted use:

Worship services held as part of a faith's regular religious regimen and bearing no relationship to a specific civic purpose.

I believe this is based on "DeBoer v. Village of Oak Park" which can be read in several places on the web. One interesting library-related site tackling this issue is at which runs through different kinds of forums and analysis of two cases.

My take to the hypothetical policy is that one can prohibit religious services but must allow other types of meetings held by that church which constitute religious speech which is part of the civic purpose of the meeting room. Reactions?