Nearly three dozen people protested a Constitution Day event in Union County on Saturday because they say county library officials favored one event over another.
The spirited group involving members of Union County Pride, faith-based organizations and others staged a peaceful protest at the Monroe-based main branch on Windsor Street.
They oppose the county’s recent decision to deny meeting room space to a local LGBTQ+ rights good who wanted to host an event — the same day the library hosted an event by Moms for Liberty of Union County, a conservative parents’ rights organization.
“We had a party out there, and four or five like-minded groups were there, and we got to know each other,“ said Union County Pride member Karen Harbin. “We want to let people know what is going on.”
If the county is going to say yes to one group, then it should say yes to all groups, Harbin added.
Earlier this week, the local pride group cried foul, saying a decision to deny its request to reserve a room at the Union County Library is a violation of its members’ civil rights.
Since last November, Union County has had a policy that meeting room access at its libraries may only be reserved by governmental entities, or county-sponsored events or activities.
But when Cristal Robinson, who heads Union County Pride, learned Moms for Liberty of Union County had secured a spot at the branch in Monroe for a Constitution Day event on Saturday, Robinson thought the policy had changed.
Robinson, who uses they/them pronouns, promptly submitted a request to reserve the same room later in the day Saturday, but the request was denied, they said. That’s a violation of First and 14th amendment rights, they said.
Union County Pride has been hosting several events this week, culminating in a festival at Belk-Tonowanda Park on Sunday.
“I was excited, because I saw Moms for Liberty using it, which is not a governmental entity,” Robinson told the Charlotte Observer on Tuesday. “Their response is that the county manager’s office approved (Moms for Liberty).”
Robinson said they reached out to County Manager Brian Matthews but did not get a response from him.
The request was “a vague and ambiguous request only noting a purpose of meeting with learning. It did not include Constitution Day ... nor was it clear that it was intended for children,” Union County spokeswoman Liz Cooper said in an email statement to the Charlotte Observer Friday. “The request was denied as it did not meet criteria to be an event considered for a co-sponsorship with the Union County Government.”
The Observer made a public records request for both applications from Moms for Liberty and Union County Pride, but Union County had not fulfilled that request by deadline.
Abigail Prado, the Union County chapter chair of Moms for Library, said her group hosted a Constitution-themed story time. When the group put in the request in August, it submitted a specific request, and she believed it would be approved because the event would educate children on “our country’s founding document.”
“We will be reading children’s books about the writing and ratification of the United States Constitution, singing patriotic songs, and doing a variety of patriotic-themed crafts,” she said in an email to the Observer. “Even though M4L is a non-governmental entity, we proposed an event that would be open to the entire community.”
Constitution Day is commemorated Sept. 17 to honor the day the U.S. Constitution was signed by 39 delegates from the Constitutional Convention on Sept. 17, 1787.
Robinson had said, as an attorney, they are well-versed in the Constitution and their event would have focused on that topic.
David Williams, a Union County commissioner, commented on social media about the county’s decision to approve one event and not others.
“Let’s truly celebrate Constitution Day by actually defending speech and enlarging those public spaces where that freedom is exercised,” Williams wrote in a Facebook post. “How about we learn to disagree vehemently with what a person says but defend to the death the right to say it? It would do wonders for the present sad state of political and civil society.
“The County Manager needs to make accommodations for other voices to be heard on Saturday. Fast.”
Harbin, of Wingate, was disappointed in the denied request, saying the county facilities should have inclusive programming.
“This should include both facility usage and displays of books that highlight members of the group or things about them,” Harbin wrote in an email. “We have people of many races, genders, sexual orientations, religions, and disabilities, as well as veterans, refugees, and immigrants in our county. That diversity is important and needs to be both highlighted and celebrated.”
Union County Pride hosted its first pride festival last September, but those activities also were met with resistance. Officials abruptly canceled planned seminars about the LGBTQ+ community at the Union County Library, including a drag queen story hour, WSOC, the Observer’s news partner previously reported.