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Fla. library refuses to book meeting room for religious seminar

ADF files suit against Osceola County for enforcing unconstitutional library policy prohibiting religious use of public meeting room

MIAMI — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Osceola County on behalf of a man who was prohibited from reserving a county library’s public meeting room because of a policy forbidding religious uses. Anthony Verdugo sought to use the meeting room for a “Religion in America” seminar, but Hart Memorial Central Library officials turned him away because of the seminar’s religious content.

“Public libraries should not be posting what amounts to ‘No Religious People Allowed Here’ signs on their public meeting room doors,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster. “Having a policy explicitly designed to exclude religious groups from speaking in public meeting rooms is blatantly unconstitutional.”

Library officials rejected Verdugo’s application to reserve a meeting room for a seminar to be presented by the Christian Family Coalition entitled “Religion in America,” which was set to address current social issues in the U.S. from a biblical perspective. ADF attorneys filed the suit Verdugo v. Osceola County with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, arguing that the library system is in violation of the First and 14th Amendments by rejecting Verdugo’s request and enforcing a policy prohibiting the religious use of its public meeting rooms.

In a similar case, ADF attorneys secured a court order in June preventing a California public library from banning a Christian group from its public meeting room. In the suit Faith Center Church Evangelistic Ministries v. Glover, the court ruled that Contra Costa County officials cannot ban meetings it labels “religious services” at the Antioch Branch Library. In addition, ADF attorneys worked together with officials in the city of Richmond, Calif., and town of Elk River, Minn., to rectify similarly problematic policies that prohibited religious meetings in their community centers.

ADF is also representing a New York City church that is fighting to be allowed to continue renting a public school facility for its religious services. In Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York, city officials are violating the church’s constitutional rights by denying it rental access to public school buildings based strictly on the fact that it is a church.

“Obviously, a lot of education is needed on these constitutional issues,” said Oster. “Christians, like every other American, are protected under the First Amendment. The government cannot be telling people what they can and can’t talk about in a meeting facility that is open to the public.”

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.