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Library Sued For Blocking Native American & Wiccan Websites

Library Sued For Blocking Native American & Wiccan Websites

 

The American Civil Liberties Union, together with the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, has launched a legal battle challenging the Salem Public Library and its board of trustees for, they claim, unconstitutionally blocking access to websites discussing minority religions by classifying them as “occult” or “criminal.”

The case came about after Salem resident Anaka Hunter contacted the ACLU after she was unable to access websites on Native American and Wiccan cultural and religious ideas at the Salem Public Library. She protested to the library director, Glenda Wofford, and portions of the sites were unblocked, but much remained censored.

Indeed, Hunter alleges that Wofford said she would only allow access to the restricted sites if users had what she viewed as a legitimate reason to view the content, going on to say that she had an obligation to report people who wanted to view such sites to the authorities.

“It’s unbelievable that I should have to justify why I want to access completely harmless websites on the Internet simply because they discuss a minority viewpoint,” Hunter said in an ACLU statement. “It’s wrong and demeaning to deny access to this kind of information.”

When Hunter went to the library’s board of trustees she claims her complaint was brushed off.

Sites blocked by the library’s Netsweeper software include the official webpage of the Wiccan church, a Wikipedia entry pertaining to Wicca, Astrology.com, and The Encyclopedia on Death and Dying, which contains what is described as a “neutral” discussion of various religious and cultural ideas on death and death rituals.

Libraries are of course required by federal law to implement filtering software that prevents access to explicit, pornographic and “adult” content. However the library’s software goes further than this and blocks sites marked “occult,” while sites related to Native American culture and Wiccan faith were, the ACLU found, blocked under the category of “criminal skills” — though none of the websites contained any such information.

“Rather than dismissing the concerns of its patrons, the library should make every effort to ensure that its filtering software doesn’t illegally deny access to educational resources on discriminatory grounds,” Anthony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, is quoted as saying. “The library is the last place that should be censoring information about different cultures.”

In a comment made to the Hill, the library’s director Glenda Wofford said she would have been happy to unblock the websites but Hunter refused to specify which sites she wanted to access. “It’s not our intent to prohibit reasonable use of the Internet for research or any other legitimate reason,” Wofford is quoted as saying. “All they have to do is ask, and we’ll unblock the sites.”

However, the ACLU is contending that patrons should not have to ask to access these sites as they contain no illegal material:

“The library has no business blocking these websites as ‘occult’ or ‘criminal’ in the firstplace and certainly shouldn’t be making arbitrary follow-up decisions based on the personal predilections of library staff,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “Public libraries should be facilitating access to educational information, not blocking it.”

Related Reading:

ACLU Sues Missouri School District Over Alleged Censorship

Web Filtering Company Will No Longer Block LGBT Content

Don’t Filter Me!: ACLU Campaigns to Get Positive LGBT Websites Unblocked in Schools

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Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License with thanks to NotionsCapital.com

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93 comments

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10:42AM PST on Jan 19, 2013

NO library should be blocking Native American and Wiccan cultural and religious ideas -- it's a part of American Life that needs to be included in all learning institutions, Library should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves!

6:22AM PDT on May 19, 2012

IGNORANT and CRUEL

11:40PM PDT on Apr 24, 2012

It's terrible that websites expressing beliefs that belong to a minority group but do no harm are blocked. It's discriminatory and should be illegal.

9:49PM PDT on Mar 11, 2012

Interesting. Thanks! :)

2:15PM PST on Jan 18, 2012

Forgot to address the Native American website block. Really?! They are seriously blocking access to Native American cultural sites? Do they know what the word "native" means? It means they are MORE American than you who are blocking information on them. Most certainly it is the Salem library who is "criminal" and even dictatorial if they are preventing access to information about the heritage of the American lands.

2:11PM PST on Jan 18, 2012

A very valid point is raised by this lawsuit and article. What makes the USA great is the ability to share and understand viewpoints that are not just of the majority. Most of our movies are about less popular or outcast groups/people getting their day at last (e.g., Mean Girls, Cinderella, Shrek, Revenge of the Nerds, Hugo, Robin Hood, Harry Potter, etc.). Speaking of Harry Potter, Salem Public Library better ban all access to anything referencing that series of books/movies as well, since it's all about wizards and witches. They are too ridiculous.

11:07PM PST on Jan 9, 2012

Thank goodness for people like Hunter and the ACLU for showing up racism and prejudice wherever it exists. It is only through continuing and dogged efforts, that tolerance may proceed.

5:51PM PST on Jan 8, 2012

and they should be sued for being so ignorant

10:00PM PST on Jan 7, 2012

The Occupy movement could make a stand here: Occupy this library. Protest the blocking of every single non-porn website they find. See what else this Wofford woman is censoring (ie. evolution, perhaps?). DEMAND that knowledge be accessible for everybody, WITHOUT Her High And Mightiness Wofford's "permission."

12:34PM PST on Jan 7, 2012

Barbara W. "I am part Cherokee and my people were here first….. I am also part Celtic"

Keep quiet or they'll ban you too! I am a Scot (who also has Irish blood) and used to live in New Zealand where I had several Maori friends who are part Scot. We Scots certainly get around! I suspect that Ms Wofford would also support banning Celtic mythology sites too if she was aware of them!

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