New York Town Denies Pro-Life Group Access to Building
by Steven Ertelt
August 21, 2003
Westchester, NY (LifeNews.com) — Today, Regina Riely on behalf of herself and Feminists for Life of New York, filed suit asking a federal judge to issue an immediate restraining order to allow her access to a community room in the Westchester County Board of Legislators’ building.
The Westchester County Board of Legislators allows use of its facilities, including the legislative chambers, by outside groups.
The granite walls, high ceilings and art-deco flourishes of the Westchester County Board of Legislators’ chambers on the eighth floor of the Michaelian Office Building make it one of the most dignified and sought-after public spaces in the county.
Groups that have used the facility for meetings or various events, include the pro-abortion National Organization of Women and the Westchester Coalition for Legalized Abortion.
Riely approached the Board in June asking for permission to hold an event on August 26, 2003, honoring a pro-life doctor from the community.
She was initially told that she could use the facilities, but when a legislator presented her request to the Board, she was denied with no reason given.
"You have sponsored, authorized and tolerated the use of these facilities by a litany of client groups which you are politically cultivating, i.e., three different unions, old-age groups, ethnic groups, the county and state AFL-CIO," Riely wrote in response to the decision.
"This is a disregard of our free speech and our assembly in an unreserved and underutilized public place," Riely said.
Riely appeared at the next Board meeting and repeated her request to use the facilities, yet the Board continued to deny her.
The Board then changed its mind and approved a new policy requiring a Board member to approve the room request in order for it to be granted. There also must be some connection between the room request and the Board’s activities. In addition, the Board member must sponsor and attend the event.
Legislature Chairwoman Lois Bronz, D-Greenburgh, claims the group is not facing discrimination.
"They’re not being discriminated against. If an individual legislator makes a request for the use of the chamber, that’s different," Bronz said. "But at this point, we would not as a matter of course simply allow the chambers to be used on an open request."
Riely was told after the August 11 Board meeting that if she wanted to use the facilities for a pro-life event that she needed “to vote in pro-life legislators at the next election.”
Twelve of the board’s 17 members were endorsed by the Westchester Coalition for Legal Abortion when they were last on the ballot in November 2001.
But even the legislators who ran without the pro-abortion endorsement are not helping the pro-life group.
"I’m not looking to get in the middle of this controversy," said George Oros of Cortlandt, a Republican who may be the legislature’s most conservative member.
Reily is asking a federal court to allow her access to the building for the event. She is also asking for the Board’s policy allowing use of the facilities only to groups its approves to be declared unconstitutional.
Mat Staver, of the pro-life legal group Liberty Counsel is representing Reily.
“When the government opens up its facilities for use by the public, it is constitutionally mandated to treat all people equally without regard to their political or pro-life viewpoints," Staver explained.
The event was set to honor Dr. Lisa Marrero, a pediatrician with Pregnancy Care Center, a crisis pregnancy center located in New Rochelle.