"Once a government facility is open to the general public for various kinds of expressive activity, the facility may not discriminate against a person who wishes to use the room for religious or political events," said Mathew D. Staver, president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel, a civil liberties education and legal defense organization in Orlando.
His clients, Marsha May and Thailyn Reed are members of The Light Ministries, a religious organization that provides counseling, seminars, workshops and retreats to women. They requested to use the room, which is open to the public first come, first served.
"The First Amendment requires the government to refrain from discriminating against speech because of its religious content or viewpoint," Staver said Monday.
Pensacola Public Library's policy specifically excludes religious or political organizations from using the room. Only nonprofit, nonsectarian and nonpartisan organizations can use the room, according to library policy.
"Faith is not a disability," Staver said. "The public library cannot open its facilities to outside groups for secular expressive activities and slam the door on citizens who want to use the same facilities solely because the content of their message is religious. Of all places, a public library should freely foster a wide range of viewpoints.
"The highest form of speech discrimination is to allow someone to address a subject matter but to restrict another person from addressing the same subject from a religious or political viewpoint. The government cannot license one side of the debate and exclude another side of the issue because of its religious viewpoint."
An official with the city attorney''s office said it had not been served with papers on the case and were not able to comment. Numerous calls to the city's library director went unanswered.
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