Note to readers: Alert reader Bill Lawrence made a very enlightening comment regarding this post, which significantly changes my personal opinion. I agree with him that, given the case's specifics, the 9th Circuirt Court of Appeals made the right decision. However, I am leaving the original post up, but please do not read this post without also reading Bill's great comment. Thanks.
A Contra Costa County religious group wanted to use a public library meeting room — which is open to public groups — for its whorship services. They were denied in a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
I'm in favor of a strong, neigh impenetrable, wall between church and state (thank you for coining the phrase, Thomas Jefferson). I guess the court ruled that the group praying in a public library was a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
But a lawyer representing this religious group has a point. This ruling essentially treats religious speech as "second-class speech." That's a troubling notion.
Religious worship is protected from government intrustion by the First Amendment, and the government is prevented from establishing any religion (often interpreted to mean that the government should not support or favor religion over non-religion, a position I find beneficial to both the country and faith community).
However, as long as this public meeting room is open to groups of all faiths, I see no reason why this type of speech and worship should not be allowed. It isn't sponsored by the library, and the library (a public, government institution) doesn't seem to be guilty of favoring religion over non-religion simply by allowing the group to use its facilities.
I say, give free speech its broadest definition. Let them pray. And then let the atheists have their own meeting directly after.