Over the last several years I’ve posted about Christians in the U. S. being harassed by police and government officials for standing up for their faith by preaching, handing out Gospel tracts or by simply having a Bible study. Mostly these posts have been about other people in other states; this time, it’s about what happened in our own church….
In addition to being the evangelism pastor at Hope Chapel, Hermosa Beach, I also oversee nearly fifty Bible studies that meet in various locations around our community. One of these studies was held in the City of Hawthorne Library. The leader was offered a room to meet in, free of charge, so that he, his wife, and a few others could read through the Gospel of Mark over a period of eight weeks using a book called “One to One Bible Reading” by David Helm.
And they did. For one week.
The second week of their meeting, the Library Administrator informed the Bible Study leader that because of the separation of church and state, they could no longer meet in their private room. They were, however, welcome to meet off to the side in a corner of the library on a first come, first served basis.
I told the leader that we had to fight this because what the administrator told him was wrong. It is against the law to forbid a group from holding a Bible study in a public library!
I called our lawyer. He wrote a letter. It got results. Quickly.
Here’s what it said:
November 2, 2012
CEASE AND DESIST
County of Los Angeles
Hawthorne Public Library
Attn: Name redacted
12700 Grevillea Avenue
Hawthorne, CA 90250
Re: Name redacted/County of Los Angeles Public Library
Dear Name redacted:
Please be advised that the undersigned has been consulted by a pastor with Hope Chapel Hermosa Beach, a Foursquare Christian Church, in connection with a representation made by you to a church member, name redacted, regarding his desire to use a room at the Hawthorne library to study the holy bible with others. I am certain that in addition to the holy bible, the library contains many books and periodicals regarding various religions and permits those individuals to review those periodicals in the various study and meeting rooms.
On or about October 9, 2012, following a study of the bible in the public meeting rooms, Mr. name redacted was advised that he could no longer meet at the library due to the separation of church and state; such a representation is false. I am unpersuaded that meeting at the public library for the studying of the bible or any other religious periodicals violates the separation of church and state, but instead, violates Mr. name redacted‘s First and Fourteenth Amendment Rights to freedom of religion, assembly, free speech and equal access afforded by the United States Constitution and provided to the states in the Fourteenth Amendment thereto. If the rooms are available for study purposes to others, they must be available to Mr. name redacted regardless of what he is studying.
Clearly, the library overstepped it’s boundaries in inquiring what the subject of the study was and has not in anyway supported or otherwise promoted a religious belief. I trust that if other religious organizations came to the library to study, they too would be permitted to do so under my analysis, as would non-religious organizations. To avoid judicial intervention, I strongly urge you to cease and desist denial or use of the rooms and, if necessary, seek a legal opinion from the county counsel’s office regarding the position you have taken.
It is requested that you please furnish to the undersigned the legal authority you have to otherwise prevent these individuals from using meeting and/or study rooms and the written policy of Los Angeles County as it pertains to this issue.
I shall await your immediate response and anticipate that there will be no action taken to prevent the use of these rooms until such time as the library and/or the county has provided legal authority to support those actions which otherwise violates the civil rights and liberties of name redacted and other library patrons.
Very truly yours,
LAW OFFICES OF ROBERT DAVID CIACCIO
Robert David Ciaccio