COLUMBUS, Ohio — A federal judge ruled yesterday that a central Ohio library can't stop a conservative Christian activist group from holding a meeting with religious aspects inside a library meeting room.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge George C. Smith permanently prohibits Upper Arlington Public Library near Columbus from excluding activities it deems are "inherent elements of a religious service" or elements that are "quintessentially religious." He said in the ruling that his finding in favor of Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values was a narrow one and that the group would be harmed by not being allowed to hold its meeting at the library.
The judge's conclusion expressed no opinion on the constitutionality of the library's policy of precluding religious services.
The court also noted that the library would not be significantly harmed if the meeting were held and that even minimal infringement of First Amendment rights can be damaging.
Citizens for Community Values, which spearheaded the 2004 amendment that bans gay marriages in Ohio, was told by Library Director Ann Moore that it could not hold the meeting if it included religious elements, according to the lawsuit.
The canceled library meeting was part of a "Politics and the Pulpit" discussion planned by CCV. It was to include a discussion of politics and religion, as well as a "prayer petitioning God for guidance in the church's proper role in the political process" and "singing praise and giving thanks to God," according to the lawsuit.
Library officials said praying and singing are elements of a religious service, which is not allowed under library policy. Moore did not reply to a message requesting comment in time for this story.
Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed suit on behalf of CCV against the Upper Arlington Public Library Board of Trustees on March 7.
"Christian groups shouldn't be discriminated against for their beliefs, and we are pleased with the court's recognition of that," said ADF Legal Counsel Tim Chandler.
The group also filed a federal lawsuit in June for CCV against Union Township, east of Cincinnati, saying it refused to allow the group to use its civic center for a "Politics and the Pulpit" seminar. The township restricts meetings with religious elements in public buildings, and CCV was told the meeting could violate "separation of church and state," according to that lawsuit.