February 27, 2017

Libraries: A Safe Haven for Children to Learn, or a Safe Haven for Sex Offenders Wanting to View Child Porn?

You might be surprised to find the American Library Association (ALA) on our Dirty Dozen List. You might even be wondering: “how does the ALA ‘contribute significantly to the normalization of pornography?’”

If you’re anything like me, you’re imagining a stereotypical library—including a stern librarian who keeps a careful eye over all her precious books and shushes anyone who makes any noise at all; the children’s section is colorful with cushions to sit on while reading; motivational posters dot the walls in between bookshelves; patrons quietly enjoy reading a book; and students work on library computers completing their homework. In most people’s minds, the local library is a safe haven for all who want to read and learn.

While this may be the most people’s vision of a stereotypical library, it is certainly not the ALA’s. Instead, the ALA discourages libraries from installing Internet filters effectively encouraging libraries to allow any adult who wants to, to view pornography. ALA’s argument is that Internet filters are an infringement upon a person’s First Amendment right to free speech. However, the ALA grossly misinterprets the law.

In a court case known as Miller v California, the Supreme Court originally stated that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment,[1] but that mere possession of obscene material cannot constitutionally be made a crime.[2]  However, according to another federal court, there is a difference between the mere private possession of pornography and viewing pornography in a public place, like the library: neither of these Supreme Court cases “establish a First Amendment right to view pornography in a public library or any other public place.”[3]

So where does the ALA get its argument? The American Library Association uses a 20 year-old Supreme Court case. In 1997, the Supreme Court struck down a federal statute that mandated filtering across the entire Internet to protect minors from harmful material. The Supreme Court said that such a statute was overbroad it would restrict adults from being able to access material that, though harmful to minors, is protected by the First Amendment.[4]

This is where the ALA couches all of its arguments against filtering. They claim that library filters are unconstitutional because they prevent adults from accessing material that is protected by the First Amendment. However, this argument is limited and omits a more recent Supreme Court ruling that specifically said that libraries can filter the Internet!

Of course, you might be assuming that the ALA is innocently mistaken and perhaps doesn’t know about this new case.  However, this assumption is wrong. The ALA definitely knew about the case. It was the main party in the lawsuit!

In total collusion with smutty website publishers, the ALA sued the United States, challenging the constitutionality of a new filtering law.[5] In 2000, Congress passed the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which required libraries to filter the Internet in order to qualify for federal funding. However, the American Library Association didn’t want Internet filters on library computers. They, along with some library patrons and website publishers, sued the United States, challenging the constitutionality of CIPA’s filtering provisions, but the Supreme Court found that the law was constitutional. It declared:

Especially because public libraries have traditionally excluded pornographic material from their other collections, Congress could reasonably impose a parallel limitation on its Internet assistance programs.[6]

Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded that filters in public libraries are an acceptable form of library curating, and the statute was upheld.

Despite all of this, the American Library Association continues to urge libraries across the nation to refuse to filter the Internet and thereby refuse federal funds in the process. And we are left to wonder why!

  • Why does the ALA continue to ignore a Supreme Court case it was party to?
  • Why does the ALA vehemently argue against filtering the Internet in libraries, where children often frequent?
  • Why does the ALA seem to care more about a nonexistent right of adults to access pornography in public places rather than the rights of children to be free of harmful material?

These are serious questions that can hardly be explained.

Moreover, these issues are even more shocking when compared to what most of us imagine when we think of local libraries. Most of us think of libraries as safe community centers, where we can send our children to do their homework with peace of mind. However, a quick search online will show you that:

  • Lots of libraries do not filter the Internet;
  • Some library porn viewers commit indecent acts while watching pornography; and
  • Registered sex offenders and others have been found accessing and looking at hardcore pornography, as well as child sexual abuse images (i.e. child pornography) in public libraries.

By allowing hardcore pornography to be accessed in libraries the ALA is melding two worlds that do not belong. We don’t expect to find collections of books featuring hardcore pornography in the rows of bookshelves at the public library, but for those libraries that refuse to filter the Internet, it is as if they open up a XXX shop within the library.

Pornography is harmful to children and does not belong in spaces where children go to learn and grow. Children should also be protected from accidental exposure to pornographic images and indecent acts by porn viewers. Moreover, no community wants their library to become a welcome haven to sex offenders who may frequent the library to access hardcore pornography.

As an authoritative association, the American Library Association’s suggestions carry significant weight. Their continued insistence that the Internet in libraries should not be filtered puts children at great risk to exposure to pornographic images and contributes significantly to the normalization of pornography.

These are not the type of libraries we want and expect for our children and our communities. So, if you are interested in having Internet filters (or better filters) installed in your public libraries and schools, we have a special project dedicated to making that happen. Visit www.SafeLibraryProject.com to learn more and get started.

 


[1] Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 93 S. Ct. 2607, 37 L. Ed. 2d 419 (1973).

[2] Stanley v. Georgia  394 U.S. 557, 89 S. Ct. 1243, 22 L.Ed.2d 542 (1969).

[3] State v. Reidinger, 367 Wis. 2d 350, 876 N.W.2d 179, review denied, 371 Wis. 2d 613, 887 N.W.2d 896 (2016).

[4] Reno v. Am. Civil Liberties Union, 521 U.S. 844, 117 S. Ct. 2329, 138 L. Ed. 2d 874 (1997).

[5] See United States v. Am. Library Ass’n, Inc., 539 U.S. 194, 123 S. Ct. 2297, 156 L. Ed. 2d 221 (2003).

[6] Ibid.

Savanah Lawrence

Legal Fellow, NCOSE Law Center

Savanah Lawrence joined the NCOSE team as a Legal Fellow from Brigham Young University in March 2016. Savanah has a passion for social justice and is particularly concerned about the issues revolving around the family. Savanah shares NCOSE’s passion for fighting against pornography because she recognizes how pornography destroys the family by weakening marital bonds, and ostracizing children from their parents.

Savanah’s passion for social justice led her to attend law school at the J. Reuben Clark School of Law at Brigham Young University. After her first year of law school, Savanah traveled to Uganda as a summer intern to combat sex crimes against women, promulgated by Uganda’s discriminatory intestacy laws. In her second year, Savanah worked as a family law research assistant for Professor Lynn Wardle, regarding family law issues. She also volunteered at the Provo Family Justice Center, where she helped indigent domestic violence victims.

Prior to law school, Savanah attended Brigham Young University for her undergrad. Savanah has travelled extensively throughout both the United States and the world. She participated in a study abroad in Jerusalem, where she also traveled to Egypt and Jordan. Savanah has traveled to several countries in Europe, and she spent a year and a half in South Korea as a service missionary, where she learned to read and speak the Korean language.

Further Reading