by Ethan Tong • 4 min read
An Arizona library that denied a man access to host a reading of a Christian book has backed down after receiving First Liberty’s letter.
Local resident Ricardo Frias requested use of the San Tan Valley County Library in Arizona last December. He wanted to use the space for a story time event which included reading Kirk Cameron’s “As You Grow,” a children’s book on the Fruit of the Spirit that teaches values such as kindness, joy, patience and self-control.
After an exchange of emails over several weeks, the County eventually denied his request, saying, “The building is county owned we have to be careful about the separation of church and state and we aren’t allowed to offer the space for church or religious activities that could be considered preaching.”
First Liberty sent a letter urging the County to reverse that decision. Denying Ricardo simply on the basis of religion is discrimination that violates the First Amendment:
“The fact that Mr. Frias’ message involves religion does not disqualify him from using your meeting rooms. In fact, it strengthens his case, since he also has a right under the state and federal constitutions to freely exercise his religion. Denying religious speakers a forum to speak while allowing similarly situated secular speakers to communicate their messages, not only violates the religious speaker’s free speech rights, but also their free exercise rights as well.”
We’re happy to report the library reversed its denial and agreed to work with Ricardo. First Liberty Senior Counsel Andrew Gould said, “We appreciate the county’s quick response to our letter and are working with the library staff on scheduling a time when our client can host story time.”
Public libraries unlawfully denying religious people access to their facilities has become a problematic trend in recent months. Kirk Cameron himself requested to use public libraries across the country and has been turned away multiple times. Fox News reported that the Rochambeau Public Library in Providence, Rhode Island told Cameron and his book publisher by phone, “No, we will pass on having you run a program in our space…We are a very queer-friendly library. Our messaging does not align.” According to The Daily Signal, more than 50 public libraries rejected requests for the public reading of “As You Grow” last year. Meanwhile, countless libraries have permitted other events such as “Drag Queen Story Hour.”
Public libraries, however, appear to be getting the message that they cannot exclude religious Americans from using their facilities. Federal law expressly prohibits discrimination against organizations and individuals on the basis of religion. Public libraries and other government agencies must treat them the same as everyone else, including equal access to public spaces.
In January, a Los Angeles library got it right. When Kirk Cameron requested to rent the space for a public reading, the library accepted. They correctly clarified that “the use of the room does not constitute an endorsement of policies, or beliefs of the group or individual using the room.”
Similarly, a Massachusetts library that initially rejected to host a “Pastor Story Hour” changed its mind and allowed a pastor to read faith-based books, including one titled “God Made Boys and Girls: Helping Children Understand the Gift of Gender.”
Instead of censorship and exclusion, public libraries should be places that foster an environment inclusive of diverse viewpoints. They should be accessible for all members of the community to use.
As we celebrate this win, we want to thank you for supporting First Liberty. These vital day-to-day victories make a tremendous difference to people of faith in our country. Your support in our fight is helping restore freedom for everyday Americans like Ricardo, who are simply seeking to live out their faith. After all, when one person of faith is free to express his or her beliefs, that’s a win for all Americans.