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Pornography Is Protected Speech At New York Public Libraries

In a story today, The New York Post went looking for patrons of public libraries who watch porn at computer terminals. They found one older gentleman watching a "threesome." He wouldn't talk to the paper, but they did find plenty of people who were put off by the behavior:

Library patron Daisy Nazario, 60, said she was grossed out when she discovered she was sitting next to an elderly porn watcher in the Brooklyn Central Library recently.

The looker was using library-provided extensions on the sides of his computer to block the view of his screen — which was featuring a threesome at the time — "but I could still hear the voices," a disgusted Nazario said.

"It is very disrespectful to the children."

But the truth is that for a long time, now, New York City libraries have decided that watching pornography at public libraries is protected by the First Amendment and as such they don't do anything to stop or discourage it. The New York Press reported back in 2004 that when Congress passed the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), the Brooklyn Public Library, for example, just added a filter that adults could turn off if they wanted to. The filter kept the free speech protection in place but also raised the necessary roadblocks to keep the library from losing its federal funding.

Back in 2005, The New York Times' Ethicist boiled down the issue at hand succinctly:

Libraries should provide for the free exchange of ideas — not just ideas you or I find palatable, not just ideas suitable for 5-year-olds. And librarians should not be forced to censor patrons' reading, let alone eject them for looking at disturbing images.

While it seems that most libraries have agreed with the that interpretation, the issue still keeps coming up. Earlier this month, reports LA Weekly, Los Angeles City Commissioners on the Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee discussed the same thing after receiving complaints from constituents that they were put off by library patrons surfing for porn. Nothing came of the meeting except some constitutional advice:

...There was a lot of talk, with UCLA constitutional law professor Eugene Volokh saying city libraries could filter porn on its public internet terminals, but only until someone asked them to stop.

"If the library says, 'No, we don't want to unblock. We don't want to subsidize this kind of material,' that's something that's not yet settled" by the U.S. Supreme Court, he told the committee.

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