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Exodus Board Member Suing to Hold Church Services in Public Library

Timothy Kincaid

March 9th, 2008

burress.jpgPhil Burress is the president of Citizens for Community Values, an anti-gay advocacy group that is credited with spearheading the 2004 amendment that bans gay marriages in Ohio. He is also an officer on the Board of Directors of Exodus International.

Burress makes no pretenses that he is not an enemy of the lives, liberties and freedoms of gay people. In fact, his organization ranks as one of the most overtly homophobic groups of which I am aware. On his website’s position paper on homosexuality, he concludes:

At the outset of this paper we stated that the militant agenda of homosexual activists represents the single greatest threat to our Judeo-Christian family values, and to societal stability as a whole, of this generation. We hope that you understand our rationale for that statement and will join us in resisting, on every front, the organized effort to normalize homosexual behavior in our society.

Burress has long been viewed as a pain in the side of Cincinnati. After CCV was successful in getting the citizens of the city in 1993 to overturn anti-discrimination codes, the business community became annoyed. The city gained a reputation of being intolerant and homophobic, which reduced the pool of talented potential employees.

Indeed it was a coalition of business groups in that city that led to the successful vote in 2004 to overturn Burress’ meddling.

Now, according to Ohio.com, Burress continues his attack on the city and its residents**. CCV is suing a local public library because they do not allow religious services in their meeting rooms.

The canceled library meeting was part of a “Politics and the Pulpit” discussion planned by Citizens for Community Values. It was to include a discussion of politics and religion, as well as a “prayer petitioning God for guidance in the church’s proper role in the political process” and “singing praise and giving thanks to God,” according to the lawsuit.

Library officials said praying and singing are elements of a religious service, which is not allowed under library policy.

Naturally, CCV is being represented by Alliance Defense Fund, a ministry dedicated to using legal means to advantage conservative Christian groups over their secular neighbors. ADF is a ardent opponent to the separation of Church and State.

“Christian groups shouldn’t be discriminated against for their beliefs,” said Tim Chandler, an attorney with Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian legal group that joined the lawsuit.

“The government cannot treat people with nonreligious viewpoints more favorably than people with religious viewpoints,” Chandler said. “Christians have the same First Amendment rights as anyone else in America.”

Perhaps I’m old fashioned. But my father and both of my brothers are ministers and at no point have they insisted that the residents provide free meeting places for their religious services. It takes a huge sense of entitlement to demand that government – be local or national – subsidize your religious endeavors.

Burress has no lack of sense of entitlement. Nor does he ever hesitate in his efforts to force his articles of faith on others, especially gay people.

Recently Exodus has declared that they have changed their efforts and will no longer focus on anti-gay public policy but will instead return to their original mission of ministering to those same-sex attracted persons who believe that homosexuality is contrary to a Biblical code of sexual ethics.

In August, 2007 after a lot of prayer, deliberation and listening to friends and critics alike — but mostly the Lord — we decided to back out of policy issues and our Director of Government Affairs took a position with another organization.

I believe strongly in all of the initiatives that we were involved in, but believe we must focus on our two greatest contributions: 1) helping the Church balance grace and truth where homosexuality is concerned and 2) connecting people who seek our help with a community of believers that can love them as they journey towards Christ.

While I disagree with Exodus’ version of “grace and truth where homosexuality is concerned”, I find that statement commendable.

But Exodus needs to back up its claim with action. It needs to sever from its midst those elements who do nothing but advocate discrimination against gay people and who serve no function but as political activists.

I contend that as long as Burress is on the Board of Directors of Exodus, they will continue to be viewed as an anti-gay political advocacy organization – and rightly so.

** UPDATE – Reader Stefano has corrected my faulty Ohio geography. The library is in a neighborhood in Columbus.

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Stefano
March 9th, 2008 | LINK

“Now, according to Ohio.com, Burress continues his attack on the city and its residents. CCV is suing a local public library because they do not allow religious services in their meeting rooms.”

Just a minor comment on the above… This makes it sound like his litigation is for a library in Cincinnatti. In fact, the suit is against the Upper Arlington Library which is an upscale neighborhood in Columbus.

This is not the first time the Upper Arlington Public library has come under attack by such groups.

In 2005, the library came under attack for allowing the free gay-oriented publications (Colulmbus’ free gay newspapers) to be available in the lobby for patrons along with other local free press publications. The demand made upon the library was to ban “such pornography” as any free gay press materials.

Stefano
March 9th, 2008 | LINK

P.S.

I agree, Phil Burress, Citizens for Community Values, and Rob Parsley are a major thorn in Ohio’s side not only for those who believe in the dignity and worth of us gay folk, but for anyone who believes in the separation of church and state.

Exodus Board Member Suing to Hold Church Services in Public Library · The Spin Doctor
March 9th, 2008 | LINK

[…] Read the rest of this great post here […]

Willie Hewes
March 9th, 2008 | LINK

These people just don’t get what ‘freedom of religion’ means, do they?

Is this basic and vital democratic concept not taught in US schools? Or are they all homeschooled or something?

Erica B.
March 9th, 2008 | LINK

Dear Asshats,

The only way to claim discrimination is if other religious groups get to hold meetings and pray in the library. And, they don’t. So stop wasting the time and money of the Ohio court system with your persecution complex.

Regards,
Person With Ounce of Common Sense

Steve Schalchlin
March 9th, 2008 | LINK

Timothy, very well written commentary, as usual. If Exodus actually does intend to turn back into a ministry, it’s going to be a tough transition with men like this on the Board. I wonder if he approved the action Alan announced?

Jarred
March 9th, 2008 | LINK

Something tells me we’ll see Exodus making a distinction between what board members do as private citizens vs. what they do in their capacity as a board member soon.

And to be honest, the more I think about it, I’m not sure that’s a totally bogus distinction. I mean, can Exodus reasonably require anyone affiliated with them to refrain from participating in the activities of another organization? Should they?

John
March 9th, 2008 | LINK

Jarred,

If Exodus were to put a very high priority on extricating itself from the culture wars so that it can appeal to the widest possible range of people who are unhappy being gay, it would be perfectly reasonable to ask Board Members and Officers to decide whether they wanted to continue high profile political work or maintain their position in Exodus.

However, if they are going to allow Officers and Board Members of Exodus to play high profile culture war roles (supposedly separate from their Exodus responsibilities), they will never be able to portray themselves as an organization that is welcoming to all.

At present, I find it hard to believe that participants in Exodus don’t feel a great deal of pressure to change their political affiliation to right wing Republicans in order to fit in with the organization.

Jason D
March 10th, 2008 | LINK

“Christians have the same First Amendment rights as anyone else in America.”

Really? From what I keep finding, some of them seem to think they have MORE rights than the rest of us.

William
March 10th, 2008 | LINK

Aren’t they, in fact, demanding SPECIAL RIGHTS?

John
March 10th, 2008 | LINK

I’m not a lawyer, but this does seem to be a First Amendment case. Free speech extends even to those we disagree with. The library’s policy sounds unconstitutional and we’ve already had cases like this one where SCOTUS ruled against the public school which tried to restrict religious speech. Now this is a public library, but I’m willing to bet that it will extended here as well. Of course if these guys are allowed then I don’t see why groups like Dignity shouldn’t be able to use the facilities as well. Then of course there is the freedom to protest, etc.

Stefano
March 10th, 2008 | LINK

John, I can see how they are trying to make it a First Amendment issue. However, the library has continued to offer them their location for meetings but because the library is publically funded they cannot include aspects in their meetings which are considered to be part of a [b]religious service[/b]; i.e., library policy prohibits prayer and singing as “inherent elements of religious service.”

Regan DuCasse
March 10th, 2008 | LINK

Aren’t there ENOUGH places where a person can practice their religion and meet with like minded individuals WITHOUT use of a public library?

Talk about wanting to legislate against being offended! The Alliance Defense Fund is seriously taking the cake on that one!

CHURCHES are public venues enough, aren’t they? Jews also are religious people and don’t seem to find the need to impose their religion on others in this way.
There is the church, the home, the street corner, the park sometimes and definitely one’s own religious school.

Why must publicly shared EDUCATIONAL institutions now have to set aside a place for Christians to meet?
There are a lot of things about our lives as a diverse society that’s going to offend SOMEBODY’S religiously held beliefs.
But this is ridiculous. Some people just want to be set up so they can whine about their rights.

This reminds me of the vegetarian Hindus who sued McDonald’s over the revelation of beef flavoring being used on the french fries. The brouhaha started when said Hindus said they’d have to travel to India to be purified in the Ganges (one of the most polluted rivers in the near East), to restore their place with their Gods.

Which begged the question: why were you patronizing a place that SPECIALIZES in dead cow and eating beef?!

It was SO hard to take those litigators seriously.
And it’s impossible to take the Alliance Defense Fund and the people they represent too seriously either.

Note the the Alliance Defense Fund:

The more you cry victimhood and that people are picking on you because you don’t get to invade EVERY public accomodation, the more difficult it will be to take it seriously if ever there are real Christian victims out there.

Why doesn’t the ADF go to China and litigate on behalf of the Fulan Gong?
If they were somewhere defending Christians where they could really risk jail, loss of livihood, or maybe their lives…I’d fully believe they were courageous Christians.
You know, like the Christians that stood alongside MKL as civil rights advocates when it was tough and dangerous to do so.

I know I’m rambling, but I think y’all get the picture.

John
March 10th, 2008 | LINK

Stefano: The article doesn’t go into too much detail on the library’s policy, yet if they are allowing groups to meet there than I fail to see how this isn’t a free spech case. This is especially true if the library charges groups to rent these rooms. They might have a point about singing, since I presume they don’t allow concerts in these rooms, but praying? That’s protected speech. Eh, it gets dicey when we are talking about public buildings so the courts will have fun with this one. Beats me how they’ll rule on this but I won’t be surprised if this group wins. If they win, have the local chapter of Dignity (or whatever) apply to meet right before or after them.

Regan: Most churches I’m aware of are privately owned so have the right to control who meets there. Public buildings are a different matter.

Stefano
March 10th, 2008 | LINK

John:

Along with the form that must be filed to reserve a room applicants are provided with the libraries policies and procedures. Within the policies it states: “The use of the meeting rooms for commercial, religious or political campaign meetings is not permitted. However, committees affiliated with a church (such as a church board of trustees) will be allowed to use the meeting rooms provided no religious services are involved.”

I’ll concede that no details are given within these written procedures as to what constitutes “religious services”. What I stated regarding library policy prohibits prayer and singing as “inherent elements of religious service”, that was from a report by Alan Johnson in the Columbus Dispatch on 8 March.

Library officials contend that the group was not barred from using the library meeting space to discuss religion or any other topic. But that the group was informed when the library was provided more information regarding the meeting content that …

“…the meeting would include a discussion of the intersection of politics and religion, as well as a prayer petitioning God for guidance in the church’s proper role in the political process and singing praise and giving thanks to God…”

that library policy prohibits prayer and singing as “inherent elements of religious service.”

Rooms are available on a first come, first served basis and can be reserved no more than two months before a meeting date. All meetings must be free of charge and open to the public.

The Meeting Room Policies & Organization Profile Form is available here: http://www.ualibrary.org/pr/meetingroom.pdf

I can’t link to the Columbus Dispatch because their article is archived and you have to be a paid subscriber.

Stefano
March 10th, 2008 | LINK

PS

The library has stated that “The opportunity to meet … was and still is open to them.”

That is, they can use the facility to hold a discussion but only if they omit the religious service aspects.

BTW: the library also has a policy stating that “Events held in the library’s meeting rooms must be conducted with a minimum of noise so as not to disturb other library patrons.”

One might consider the singing to be disruptive.

Just saying…

Stefano
March 10th, 2008 | LINK

John:

PSS

I don’t know if the group was charged or not. I don’t recall.

I do know that the rooms: When they are not scheduled for library functions, … are available for use without charge by any group associated with the City of Upper Arlington or any not-for-profit, tax exempt group.

The rooms may also be used by other groups and businesses meeting for a non-profit reason (that are not a tax exempt group) but they must pay room usage fees.

Stefano
March 10th, 2008 | LINK

Sorry for the multiple postings…

John:

Just one last thing…

I do agree that considering a prayer constituting part of a religious service could be dicey, considering even governmental legislatures and other government events often open or close with a non-denominational or non-sectarian prayer of some sort.

I speculate that the library officials may be privy to more of the actual proposed meeting format/content than only the brief comments made in the press that led them to consider the meeting a religious service.

Timothy Kincaid
March 10th, 2008 | LINK

John,

I too am not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV. However, I think that this lawsuit is a loser for a very simple pragmatic reason: if you allow any religious service, you must allow all religious services.

This is a library.

As in, shhhhhh.

My father is a pentecostal preacher. Let me state in no uncertain terms that there is absolutely no way that a library would want my father preaching or his church singing. Shouting, whooping and hollering, praying in tongues, dancing in the aisles. Pretty much all the stereotypes that jump to your mind were standard fare.

And if you let Burress have intercessory prayer and sing praises, you have to let to let the local street preachers hold revivals. And the courts aren’t going to rule that public libraries must allow events that are disruptive simply because they are religious; that would indeed be special rights.

The best that the ADF can hope for is a policy that allows for an invocation – something that I suspect they already allow. But the ADF isn’t interested in library policy, they are interested in fanning the flames of Culture War and in pretending that they are victims so as to stir up animosity and strife.

John
March 11th, 2008 | LINK

I agree that singing probably wouldn’t be protected and that the ADF is largely seeking precisely what Timothy says. However, I do not agree that prayer isn’t constitutionally protected speech. It doesn’t matter what their policy says about this. Lemme put it this way, what do you think Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and probably Kennedy will say? I can hear Scalia’s acerbic questions now about whether the library is going to toss out some kid who says a quick prayer before studying. This all comes back to the fact that this is a public building and the prayer aspect at least does involve free speech.

Truth Wins Out
March 11th, 2008 | LINK

[…] at Arlington Group member organizations with information and support. And Phil Burress sued to hold taxpayer-subsidized church services in an Ohio public […]

NancyP
March 11th, 2008 | LINK

I think that the library intends to exclude “religious services”, not opening prayers in a meeting. Frankly, I think they are generous in allowing church boards of trustees to hold business meetings there – I think the rationale is that these are by nature CLOSED meetings and thus not congregational services. And I don’t see what the big First Amendment deal is. City Hall isn’t obliged to open up its meeting rooms for Sunday services by particular churches.

The library is providing SUBSIDIZED (free) space to non-profit organizations. Right to Life can have its business meetings or public informational meetings there. If Burress has a non-church 501c3, he can have its meetnig there.

John
March 12th, 2008 | LINK

The big deal, as I see it, is that they are labelling prayer as verboten at these meetings. It matters not that the library is providing “subsidized” space, if it opens itself up to the public than it cannot discriminate. I do not believe this will pass scrutiny when this issue makes it up to SCOTUS. Like I said, imagine the ‘fun’ folks like Scalia will have with this.

Jason D
March 12th, 2008 | LINK

John, I’m not so sure SCOTUS is on your side. Can you imagine the headlines “No more SHHing, singing now okay in libraries”

To my mind that’s probably more important than the religious aspect. We’ve established libraries as places of quiet, and people have come to expect and enjoy that aspect.

Stefano
March 12th, 2008 | LINK

This may never even make it to SCOTUS. It hasn’t even been heard in the Ohio courts yet, where the suit has been brought.

John: I think you’re focusing too much singularly on “a prayer”. The issue isn’t whether or not a group, or this group is saying a prayer, the issue here is what constitutes a “religious service” as opposed to a group holding a public discussion in a publicly funded facility.

As I mentioned previously, I do not think the UAL would have denied the group access solely for including a prayer as an invocation. I think their decision was based on the over-all format and context of the proposed meeting, not any singular component.

John
March 12th, 2008 | LINK

Jason: I specificially excluded singing because I can see the courts ruling that this would go too far in a library.

Stefano: We’ll have to wait and see. Eh, give it about 5 years or so as it makes it’s way up. We’ll see how it develops. There could be more to the story than what has been reported at the moment. I recall that being the case about the Ten Commandments monument in Alabama.

Jason D
March 12th, 2008 | LINK

“John said:
Jason: I specificially excluded singing because I can see the courts ruling that this would go too far in a library.”

Then…I don’t see the point in discussing this as if it would get as far as SCOTUS. I’m confused.

You seem to be saying, “Let’s pretend B isn’t part of the case. Given that, then definitely the SCOTUS will rule against the library based on A. We’ll see in a few years if i’m right.”

Seems rather open and shut to me. Prayer = Okay. Singing = Not Okay. Prayer and Singing = Still Not Okay.

I don’t get it, did I miss something?

John
March 13th, 2008 | LINK

Jason: As I understood the reporting on this policy, prayer was alos prohibited in addition to the singing. If this is not the case, that changes matters depending of course upon how the policy is written and enforced. Any lawyer worth his salt will approach this in challenging the policy that prohibits both (which he’ll lose I wager) or separate the two in his arguments to win a partial victory. I can certainly see Justices like Scalia doing this in his questioning and the opinion he writes. As I said though, this case will have to develop and we’ll learn more as it works it’s way up the courts. Again, it could be similiar to how the Ten Commandments case in Alabama was first reported.

Stefano A
August 14th, 2008 | LINK

I thought I’d post an update.

The federal court ruled yesterday in favor of Citizens for Community Values.

U.S. District Judge George C. Smith wrote in a 32-page decision that the library’s practice of prohibiting activities that it concludes are “inherent elements of a religious service” or elements that are “quintessentially religious” is unconstitutional.

Smith wrote that prohibiting those portions of the event that the library concluded were inherent elements of religious services “constitutes viewpoint discrimination.”

Smith did not give an opinion on the constitutionality of the library’s policy of precluding religious services.

To date CfCV has been instrumental in getting Ohio’s draconian same-sex legislation passed/blocked, new restrictions on adult businesses/strip clubs, and that with the school voucher program we must provide vouchers for parochial schools.

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