Carroll County library's stance on coupon didn't violate rights

Attorney general issues opinion on Bible reference

October 12, 2001|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Public Library would not have been promoting religion had it included a biblical reference on a discount coupon to a Pennsylvania corn maze it distributed during the summer, according to an opinion issued by the Maryland attorney general.

However, the opinion also said that excluding the coupon would not have violated the maze owner's free speech rights, either.

Library officials deleted a reference to the verse Ephesians 6:17 on a coupon for Gettysburg-based Shea's Maze given to summer reading program participants because library Director Linda Mielke deemed it inappropriate.

"The red flag for us was that if it was in our packet, we didn't want to offend people of religious beliefs other than Christian," Mielke told The Sun in June. "I didn't want any of our patrons to be offended." But the corn maze's owner, Suzanne Shea, said she had not agreed to the deletion of the information. She alleged religious discrimination and claimed her right to free speech had been violated.

Shea told The Sun in June that her maze features seven biblical quotes on signs within the maze and in pamphlets given to visitors.

The citation refers to a verse in Ephesians that reads, "And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

Shea asked state Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of the Carroll legislative delegation, to seek the opinion from the attorney general.

Avoiding the issue of whether the reference had been deleted with or without her blessing, the office found that "excluding the coupon would not have violated ... guarantees of free speech."

Mielke said she wasn't surprised by the opinion. "It looks to me like the library did not infringe on anyone's ... First Amendment right," she said.

She said she thought the library had handled the matter correctly. "The arrangement I made with Mrs. Shea to cross out the coupon as written was the right thing to do," Mielke said.

Haines said he was also satisfied with the determination.

"They spent about 10 weeks on this and it contains a lot of good information," he said. "The opinion makes it clear that the decision by the library not to include the coupon was no violation, nor would it have been had they included it."

Sun staff writer Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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