Religious services to stay at library
By PHYLLIS LEHRER, Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 19, 2002 -- The Jones Library Board of Trustees has voted unanimously to continue its room reservation policy that allows religious groups to hold services in the town's public library.
Last month, Amherst resident Saul Gladstone asked the board to reconsider its policy. He said that Mercyhouse, a church sponsored by the Baptist Convention of New England, holds services Sunday morning in the library's large meeting room. He said the evangelical Christian church proselytizes and the library shouldn't encourage that.
Mercyhouse has been meeting at the library, 43 Amity St., since 1999. The group doesn't pay rent because it is nonprofit. However, it pays a library staff member to open and close the building as required under the meeting room use policy. The charge is $15 an hour.
Another religious group, the New Life Baptist Church, also held services on Sunday morning in the library before moving to another location.
Because the issue generated comments in the Gazette, the publicity has created an increase in requests by religious groups and others to use space in the building, according to library director Bonnie Isman.
"People know we have meeting rooms," she said. So far the Baha'is and the Interfaith Council, which includes representatives from the faith communities in town, have met in the library.
Isman said that religious groups meet in the Munson Memorial Library building as well as in the public schools. "Our policy conforms with the other agencies in town," she said.
The four-page policy is two decades old and has been updated. The fee scale was revised seven years ago.
The policy states meeting rooms are made available as a public service and booking a room in no way constitutes endorsement of the program or philosophy of the group or individuals using the facilities.
"The trustees reaffirm the American Library Association's Bill of Rights which states that facilities should be made available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use," according to the policy.
Trustee Emily Silverman suggested that the room policy be publicized by including it on the library's Web site. In addition, she said the policy should be posted in the building. "We should highlight that we don't endorse any users," she said.
©Copyright 2002, Daily Hampshire Gazette