I pride myself on being San Leandro’s most infamous atheist. I came into local prominence a couple of years ago when I challenged the San Leandro School District to stop teaching overtly religious songs in school. I had been appalled to find out that McKinley Elementary School‘s evangelical Christian music teacher, Kathy Maier, had made my 6-year old learn and sing the song “Silent Night” which praises Jesus as God. Not kosher in my book. So when I read a letter on last Thursday’s San Leandro Times accusing the city of establishing religion by allowing the Calvary Chapel church/religious group to hold services at the newly opened Senior Center, I had to investigate what was going on. And apparently it’s much ado about nothing.
Calvary Chapel is a small religious group started/run by the Cortez family, who relocated their ministry to San Leandro from the city of Guadalupe in late 2009. They are fundamentalist neo-Pentecostals (competition for Faith Fellowship?) but they don’t seem to make too big a deal out of speaking in tongues. They’ve been meeting at the Marina Community Center since they started, and apparently now they are moving to the Senior Center. I don’t know if that’s because the Senior Center is more centrally located or if they were able to see the signs predicting the end of the Marina center.
Meeting rooms at the Marina and Senior Centers are available for rental by any member of the community. Non-profit groups, apparently including churches, are charged reduced non-profit rates during non-peak hours and regular rates during the peak hours that Calvary Chapel mostly reserves. Any group is allowed to use these facilities, provided they pay the appropriate fees & deposit, have insurance and don’t have a history of trashing the facilities.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t really want the government to have to inquire as to what every group who rents a room at a public building is going to do in the room. Whether a group of people want a room to hold masturbation workshops, have a Barbie convention or pray to imaginary cosmic entities, it’s really nobody’s business but their own.
The fees that Calvary Chapel pays the city for the use of its facilities, moreover, help tremendously in keeping the Senior Center open. And who can complain about that?
Last Thursday’s San Leandro Times included a number of interesting letters from local citizens. One that particularly caught my eye was sent by Leo West and concerned the use of monitoring software on the networked computers at the library. According to the letter, “any librarian can log in and watch what any computer-user is watching – contacts, contents of materials received or sent, websites used, everything”.
I talked to the library about this issue and I was told that the software in question has been installed so the city’s IT department (the library does not have its own) can troubleshoot computer problems over the network, from their home base at city hall. Librarians themselves can only access the software for very limited purposes (like extending the time a patron can use the computer). IT staff will access the software when a patron reports a problem, so the patron will be aware of what the staff is doing.
No records are kept of patron’s computer sessions.
Personally, I’m not overly concerned about the library staff or the IT staff at city hall watching over my shoulders (in particular after 5 PM, I very much doubt anyone is left over at City Hall after working hours) – but this tool potentially could be misused. That’s just as true of a pencil, however.