The Ninth Circuit Again

While the national press worries about civil rights controversies surrounding the disposition of captured combatants in the War on Terror, there are more local, and perhaps more pernicious, issues that slip the notice of national media. We can thank Quinn Hilyer in the Examiner for bringing to our attention a case that has been rattling around the most Liberal and most frequently overturned United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The facts of the case, Faith Center Church Evangelistic Ministries v. Glover, are not in any dispute. The Antioch Library in Contra Costa makes available its facilities to non-profit community organizations. There are several reasonable restrictions on the use of the facilities such as that access is granted on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, the explicit restriction that facilities “shall not be used for religious services” is in dispute. The Faith Center Church Evangelistic Ministries in making the reasonable claim the restriction violates the First Amendment “free exercise” clause and speech protections.

The case has not yet been decided upon its merits, but the lower court granted an injunction allowing the services to be held at the library. It reasoned that the harm done by potentially limited free speech rights outweighed any harm done to the library. In an incredible decision, the Ninth Circuit overturned the lower court and allowed the County to continue to restrict use of the facilities by a religious organization. The Ninth Circuit concluded that the loss of “mere religious worship” was not as sufficient to retain the injunction.

The case is not really very difficult and injunction should be granted to the Faith Center Church almost perfunctorily. In Widmar v. Vincent, the Supreme Court ruled if a public institution, in that case the University of Missouri at Kansas City, “makes it facilities available for the activities of registered student groups…[t]he university’s exclusionary policy [toward religious group] violates the fundamental principle that a state regulation of speech should be content-neutral.” The applicability of this case to current one is so direct, clear and obvious, that it could not escape the Ninth Circuit’s notice. Faith Center is being denied access based on the content of its speech. Nonetheless, the court asserted that the government’s interest in the case outweighed “those wishing to use the property for other purpose.”

Once again, the Ninth Circuit allows its animosity toward religious practice to overwhelm the logic of the case and the exercise of the First Amendment.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.