Courthouse News is reporting that the suit has been brought on behalf of Anaka Hunter, a resident of Salem, Missouri, who was using the computers at the Salem Public Library to research "indigenous American tribes and their spirituality." She was unable to access sites labeled as "occult" or "criminal skills" by the computer's software and complained to the library's director, Glenda Wofford.
Wofford unblocked some, but not all, of the websites.
"Wofford responded that it was up to the filtering system which websites library patrons could view and that she only allows people to view blocked websites if it pertains to their job, if they are writing a paper, or if she determined that they otherwise have a legitimate reason to view the content," the complaint states.
Wofford told Hunter that she had an obligation to call the proper authorities to report anyone who attempted to access blocked sites if she thought they would misuse the information they were attempting to access. This caused Hunter to be concerned that she might be reported to the police for trying to access websites about Native American religions and the Wiccan Church.
Hunter complained that the library's system uses Netsweeper, which categorizes minority religions such as the official page of Wicca, as well as sites such as Astrology.com as "occult," labels mainstream Christian denomination pages as religion.
While federal law requires public libraries to filter access to sites with explicit, pornographic and adult content, the ACLU suit claims the Salem library went too far in blocking information about religion.
"The library is the last place that should be censoring information about different cultures," ACLU attorney Anthony Rothert told the Associated Press.
Hunter said in a statement through the ACLU, "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. It's wrong and demeaning to deny access to this kind of information."
One of the issues not addressed in the suit is that unlike Christian denominations, many minority religions classified as "occult" do involve "criminal skills" such as the use of magic designed to harm others. In the case of Santeria and other shamanistic practices, animal sacrifice is also involved, and the nation's crime logs are filled with homicide cases perpetrated by followers of Satan.
The lawsuit asks the court to prohibit the library from blocking religious content "based upon its viewpoint." It also seeks "nominal" but unspecified damages.
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