There is no right to view internet pornography in public libraries

To the Editor:

New York libraries may be violating state law by allowing internet pornography, thereby harming communities and exposing librarians and library employees to sexual harassment by porn-viewing patrons, and leaving local governments exposed to significant litigation. They are doing so under the guidance of the American Library Association based in Chicago.

The leader of ALA’s so-called Office for Intellectual Freedom, James LaRue, was extensively interviewed by Elizabeth Floyd Mair for a Dec. 21 article in your paper: “When patrons look at porn, librarians have a ‘tough needle to thread” [A comment made by Altamont’s library director]. That interview reveals exactly how ALA misleads local libraries and governments into allowing themselves to expose their own citizens and employees to harm ….

Almost all New York libraries are created by state law. Library trustees must act autonomously to prevent political control, but they still must act within the four corners of the law. They may not act outside the law. When they do, local governments have the right and power to curtail such illegal activity without otherwise piercing the veil of autonomy … Libraries in New York are created and maintained by law for the benefit of the public.

Internet pornography does not “benefit” the public.  Quite the opposite.  Internet pornography harms the public. The harm is so great that several states have passed laws declaring pornography to be a public health hazard.

ALA finds these laws to be a threat to its ability to mislead the public. LaRue publicly ridiculed them: “The data (regarding Internet access and sexual harassment) demonstrates [sic] correlation, not cause.  The same thing can be said about those declaring pornography a ‘public health crisis.’ Sometimes, people claim way more than the data support.”

We also know internet pornography has no public benefit, specifically in public libraries, since the United States Supreme Court found, “public libraries seek to provide materials ‘that would be of the greatest direct benefit or interest to the community.’ …. To this end, libraries collect only those materials deemed to have ‘requisite and appropriate quality.’  ….  A public library … provides Internet access … to facilitate research, learning, and recreational pursuits by furnishing materials of requisite and appropriate quality.”

Knowing there is no benefit to internet pornography in public libraries, the court continued, “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. As the use of filtering software helps to carry out these programs, it is a permissible condition….”

The court then concluded, “public libraries’ use of Internet filtering software does not violate their patrons’ First Amendment rights….”

So given internet pornography injects a public-health crisis into libraries, and given the U.S. Supreme Court ruled there is no First Amendment right to internet pornography in public libraries, New York State law requiring public libraries be for the “benefit” of New York citizens essentially means internet pornography is illegal in New York public libraries.

That internet pornography in public libraries is illegal is confirmed by none other than Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, former ALA President when US v. ALA was decided. At her 2016 confirmation hearing, she said, “Pornography is illegal and we do not support that in any shape or form.”

Yet ALA says the exact opposite and libraries nationwide follow its diktat to the letter.

LaRue injects confusion by talking about the difficulty of defining obscenity. That’s irrelevant ….

LaRue injects more confusion by talking about child pornography and material harmful to minors. Again, these issues were addressed in cases that predated US v. ALA. Mr. LaRue wants people to focus on the wrong problem so that they will not notice it is perfectly legal to block internet pornography from public libraries per the U.S. Supreme Court. Indeed, New York State law compels such removal.

LaRue then knowingly misleads with intent to harm. LaRue said child pornography is “often quite clear and unmistakable.”

What he leaves out is that he, as leader of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, advises librarians to ignore child pornography because librarians are not judges and only judges can determine what is child pornography, then only on a case-by-case basis of the vast quantity of websites that comprise child pornography.

“Libraries and librarians are not in a position to make those decisions…. Only courts have constitutional authority to determine, in accordance with due process, what materials are … child pornography….”  When I and others challenged him about that policy viewable on ALA’s website, he ordered the removal of that policy from public view ….

LaRue doesn’t want people to talk about internet pornography in libraries.  He wants people to think filtering out porn unreasonably requires a librarian’s individualized judgment.

“‘It’s mushy,’ LaRue said, adding, ‘It’s not always easy to judge.’” That is irrelevant. US v. ALA was all about internet pornography and should not be ignored because of LaRue, especially since his ALA was a losing party in that case.

Further, the court found internet filters may be used precisely to keep librarians from having to make individualized judgments: “It is entirely reasonable for public libraries to … exclude certain categories of content, without making individualized judgments that everything made available has requisite and appropriate quality.”

LaRue does not mention the New York State law requiring libraries to benefit citizens. Instead, he points to irrelevancies, not library laws and policies, then blames the porn-viewing patrons themselves.

Five times he implied the issue of Internet porn in libraries should be viewed as a behavioral issue of an individual Internet porn viewer:

— 1. “If the material is indeed offensive, ask the patron to stop”;

— 2. “Ejecting patrons for this reason is no different, he said, than ejecting them for making too much noise…”;

— 3. “If a patron is doing something that harasses somebody else, that makes it impossible for them to use the library, we’re going to investigate”;

— 4. “LaRue said he is amazed at how angry people sometimes get at libraries, when the problem is not libraries, but people misbehaving in them”; and

— 5. “‘Librarians have to walk this very careful line between a murky legal environment where we want to ensure that people have the right to access information but where we sometimes need to confront harassing or abusive behavior and take action and kick people out of the library.’”

No, the legal environment is not “murky,” and internet pornography is not “information.” The issue is library policy that stands in defiance of the law, not individuals who afford themselves of the library’s lawlessness.

Lastly, LaRue makes believe US v. ALA  doesn’t exist. “Filters have two problems, said LaRue of the ALA: overblocking and underblocking.” The issue was already addressed by the Supreme Court in US v. ALA: “Concerns over filtering software’s tendency to erroneously ‘overblock’ access to constitutionally protected speech that falls outside the categories software users intend to block are dispelled by the ease with which patrons may have the filtering software disabled.”

LaRue’s only reason to raise an issue his own ALA already asked and answered before the court is to confuse people into thinking internet filters do not work. Yet Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden at her 2016 confirmation hearing said Internet filters work well.

“So, do adults have the right to view pornography in the library, [LaRue] asks rhetorically. His answer: ‘The law continues to be kind of murky about that.’” That’s what he wants you to think.

New York state law, the U.S. Supreme Court, community standards, common sense, and even the Librarian of Congress say the exact opposite. There is no right to view internet pornography in public libraries, his own ALA lost that Supreme Court case on that very issue, and New York law makes it illegal for New York libraries to serve Internet pornography, no matter the excuse or claim of “murkiness.”

Given the above, look again at the policies and practices of the libraries named in the Altamont Enterprise story. They explicitly follow ALA diktat, not New York State law. Some of the statements of the library directors amount to admissions of lawlessness.

Governments have the right and duty to enforce statutory law and stop lawlessness and should do so before further harm is done. Don’t wait for legal action to force compliance with the law; librarians who work in a sexually hostile environment caused by ALA policies that facilitate illegal internet pornography viewing, including child pornography, will not be silent forever.

Sexual harassment is wrong for everyone unless it’s in a public library adhering to ALA guidance that allows internet pornography viewing despite New York law?  The law should guide your libraries, not the American Library Association.

Dan Kleinman, owner

SafeLibraries educational services

Chatham, New Jersey

More Letters to the Editor