ST. LOUIS (CN) – A woman who tried to research “indigenous American tribes and their spirituality” at a public library sued the town of Salem and its Library Board, claiming they unconstitutionally blocked the websites as “occult” or “criminal skills” on library computers.
Salem is a town of about 5,000 in the Ozarks, about 100 miles southwest of St. Louis.
Anaka Hunter sued the city and its Library Board in Federal Court.
She says that after she brought her constitutional concerns to the attention of the defendant library 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 additionally asserted that she had an ‘obligation’ to call the ‘proper authorities’ to report those who were attempting to access blocked sites if she thought they would misuse the information they were attempting to access.
“Wofford’s assertion that she would be obligated to notify authorities caused plaintiff to be reasonably concerned that she would be reported to the police if she continued to attempt to access websites about Native American cultural and religious history and the Wiccan Church.
“Hunter attended a meeting of the Board of Trustees for the Salem Library on
November 8, 2010. At the meeting, she voiced her concerns about the filtering and the policies, practices, and customs that block religious content based upon its viewpoint.
“After Hunter described her experiences and outlined her complaints, a board member asked if Hunter whether she thought the Board or Library staff are prejudiced.
“Hunter did not answer directly, responding simply that she thought the filtering was unfair.
“A member of the Board responded that the Library’s Internet Content Filtering (‘ICF’) system would not change, adding, ‘If that’s all, we have business to discuss.'”
The library receives federal money through the Library Services and Technology Act, and is obligated to comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which “requires that libraries maintain a policy and ICF systems to prevent children from accessing ‘visual depictions’ that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors,” Hunter says in her complaint.
She says those prohibitions cannot reasonably be applied to Native American spirituality. She says the library’s Internet filter, Netsweeper, goes too far in blocking religious content.
Hunter claims that Netsweeper categorizes minority religions such as the official page of Wicca, the Wikipedia entry for Wicca and Astrology.com as “occult”; while it labels mainstream Christian faith pages as religion.
Hunter claims the library’s system even classified Wicca and Native American religions as “criminal skills,” another blocked category.
“Defendants know that the ‘occult’ category results in content- and viewpoint- discrimination against non-mainstream religions and beliefs,” the complaint states.
“Blocking websites that Netsweeper categorizes as ‘occult’ is not required CIPA.
“Blocking websites that Netsweeper categorizes as ‘occult’ is not required by [Missouri law].
“At all relevant times, it was the policy, practice, and custom of defendants to block by default websites categorized as ‘criminal skills.’
“Defendants know that the ‘criminal skills’ category overblocks websites, including those the plaintiff sought and asked to view related to Native American cultural and religious history and the Wiccan Church.
“Blocking websites that Netsweeper categorizes as ‘criminal skills’ is not required by CIPA.
“Blocking websites that Netsweeper categorizes as ‘criminal skills’ is not required by [Missouri law].
“At all relevant times, it was and remains defendants’ policy, practice, and custom to impose substantial burdens for patrons seeking to unblock websites that are overblocked by the library’s ICF.”
Hunter wants the library enjoined from blocking the websites in question. She is represented by Anthony Rothert with the American Civil Liberties Union of St. Louis.
The ACLU filed a similar lawsuit against the Camdenton School District in August 2011. Instead of religion, that lawsuit claimed the school district’s Internet filter overly blocked websites discussing gay, lesbian and transgender issues.
Camdenton is another small town in the Missouri Ozarks, 100 miles northwest of Salem. That case, filed in the Western District of Missouri Federal Court, is pending.