Posts Tagged ‘KKK’

Are Churches More Dangerous than the KKK?

March 12, 2010

Silly question, right? Not to one California church, who was barred from using a public library meeting room, even though the room was open to all other private community groups. The County Librarian even acknowledged that groups like the Ku Klux Klan were free to use the facility. But church services were forbidden.

It may be tempting to dismiss this as one isolated incident. But the sad reality is that these types of policies are prevalent around the country. ADF has successfully represented dozens of churches in similar cases. And we have uncovered hundreds of community centers, libraries, schools, and other public facilities around the country that rent to community groups, but blatantly discriminate against religious groups by refusing to rent to them or by charging them higher rental rates.

These policies make no sense. After all, social science bears out what many of us see as self-evident: churches offer valuable contributions to the community such as social services, education, increased volunteering, and reduced crime. (An Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s paper concisely summarizes many of these studies.) And, especially in this time of economic uncertainty, local governments would surely benefit from the additional revenue it would receive by renting otherwise unused facilities to churches.

So why is there so much hostility toward churches? Public officials often seem to have a Pavlovian-like reaction against anything religious, claiming that the so-called “separation of church and state” prevents churches from ever stepping foot in a public facility. But that’s not what the Constitution actually says. In fact, since 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in four different cases that the First Amendment gives religious groups the right to have equal access to a public forum that other community groups are allowed to use.

Fortunately for the California church, a federal court recognized this precedent and struck down the library policy as unconstitutional, opening the door for churches to have equal access to its meeting rooms. But it took five years of litigation to get there. Other cases have taken much longer. A school district in New York, for example, has been in court for 15 years doggedly fighting to keep churches from meeting in vacant school buildings on weekends.

ADF, who represents both churches, will continue to stand up for the time-honored principle that the First Amendment protects the right of all religious groups to equal access.