Religious posters lure ACLU to library
February 8, 2007
GRAND JUNCTION – Colorado’s Denver-based chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union wants local library officials to spell out policies for religious displays.This, in response to posters critical of homosexuality and divorcees, which are part of a display now lining the rear stairwell of the Mesa County Public Library’s main branch. “In the absence of a prominent and conspicuous disclaimer, it seems very likely that a reasonable observer could conclude that the government endorses the religious message found in the library display,” reads a letter sent to local officials by ACLU staff attorney Taylor Pendergrass.The letter arrived Wednesday at the Mesa County Attorney’s Office as well as the office of Susan Corle, with the local firm Williams, Turner & Holmes, who represents the library district.
Corle couldn’t be reached for comment late Wednesday, but Mesa County spokeswoman Jessica Peterson confirmed the letter was reviewed by staff with County Attorney Lyle Dechant. Bob Delavan, president of Mesa County Library District’s board of directors, said he wasn’t aware of the ACLU letter.Filed under the Colorado Open Records Act, the letter asks library officials for “any documents” related to the display filed by “Christians for Healthy Families,” in addition to the library’s written guidelines “including, but not limited to, the library’s policies regarding displays that contain a religious message.”Bill Hugenberg, a retired local attorney, said he contacted ACLU on Monday after he’d visited the library this past Saturday.”I looked up and saw Leviticus staring at me,” Hugenberg said. “I was appalled and incredulous.”What does a reasonable person think when they see this? They think the religious right has taken over the library.”
Hugenberg said he asked library staff on Saturday for written guidelines and policies on displays, and he was eventually provided with a three-paragraph policy form. He notes the last sentence of the policy, which reads exhibits should be “appropriate for all ages.””You’re telling impressionable children that God has abandoned their families because their parents are divorced or gay,” Hugenberg said.More important from a legal standpoint, Hugenberg said he looked for a posted disclaimer, but couldn’t find one.And what does he think such a disclaimer should read?”The library does not endorse or advocate the viewpoints of exhibits or exhibitors,” Hugenberg replied.
“Christians for Healthy Families” is the work of local resident Carol Anderson. Anderson’s exhibit followed an August display at the same location entitled “Loves Makes a Family,” which included photos of gay and multi-racial couples with children. Hugenberg sees a big legal difference between the two.”Their speech was secular … no text that referred to religion or God,” he said.He argues either display could use one simple upgrade: A disclaimer statement. If it’s not posted by mid-February, he said he’ll take it to a meeting of the library’s board.”Nobody’s threatening litigation, but it’s always a possibility,” he said.