Free Speech

Seattle Public Library "Considering" Whether to Cancel Meeting of Trans-Skeptical Feminist Group

But any such cancellation would violate the First Amendment, because it would involve viewpoint discrimination in a place opened by the government to private speech.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

The Seattle Times (Crystal Paul) reports:

Community members including transgender locals and trans allies have inundated the Seattle Public Library with calls and emails, asking the library system to cancel an upcoming event hosted by the Women's Liberation Front—a self-described "radical feminist organization" that has publicly espoused what critics call anti-trans views.

The group's event, titled "Fighting the New Misogyny: A Feminist Critique of Gender Identity," is publicized as "a critical analysis of gender identity" that will "make powerful arguments for sex-based women's rights," according to the event page. The event, scheduled to be held Feb. 1 in the Microsoft Auditorium at the Seattle Public Library – Central Branch, has placed the library at the center of a firestorm over how it can maintain its commitment to evolving ideas of intellectual freedom, provide access to information for the entire community, and be an inclusive space where all patrons feel safe and welcome.

Here's an excerpt from the Chief Librarian's statement:

A nonprofit group called the Women's Liberation Front made a booking last month for space at the Central Library to hold a private event labeled as a women's rights talk and presentation. It appeared to be a very simple booking request that was processed like any other. Our Event Services staff followed Library protocol, as always. Per our Intellectual Freedom and Meeting Room Booking policies, any group can book meeting spaces; and any group that books a private event at the Central Library can charge for the event.

Library leadership became aware of this booking and its controversial nature just yesterday. Similar events held at two other public libraries this year have been met with significant community protest in relation to the group's views on transgender rights. We have been working to get up to speed on the implications of this event as they relate to our legal responsibilities, our role as a public institution, and our role as a safe, socially conscious space.

We have heard from patrons who believe we should not let this event happen in a Library space due to the group's views. We have heard from others who say that not allowing this event to happen will endanger the Library's founding principle of intellectual freedom. As a library valuing intellectual freedom, inclusivity, and community respect, our leadership is considering every option to ensure we respond to concerns about this event thoughtfully and in line with our values.

Controversial groups like these can test our limits as democratic centers of free speech and intellectual freedom, as well as our limits as a united community and organization. I hope you can recognize the difficult situation this has created for us. We are exploring every option we have in response to this moment, talking to other libraries who have been through it, scheduling discussions with our transgender staff and community, and consulting with the City of Seattle's legal department on our options.

The law here is clear: When a library opens space for private groups to meet, it creates a "limited public forum," in which the library may "not discriminate against a speaker's viewpoint." Ninth Circuit precedent (Faith Center Church Evangelistic Ministries v. Glover (9th Cir. 2006)) so holds, dictated by the Supreme Court's broader First Amendment law, which has dealt with such programs in public schools and universities.

Viewpoint-neutral content discrimination in such limited public fora may be constitutional; for instance, the Ninth Circuit controversially held that a library may decline to open up its property to "pure religious worship" (though it may not exclude religious viewpoints on topics on which secular viewpoints are allowed). But viewpoint-based discrimination, such as the exclusion of messages that convey supposedly hateful or offensive or dangerous ideas, is unconstitutional (see Matal v. Tam (2017), which makes clear that discrimination against supposedly disparaging ideas or language is viewpoint-discrimination).

There is a hot debate in America about how the law and society should deal with people who identify as a gender that doesn't match their anatomical or chromosomal gender. Should there be antidiscrimination laws that bar discrimination against transgender people? Should existing laws be interpreted as already barring such discrimination? How should various single-sex policies, whether for single-sex bathrooms, single-sex locker and shower facilities, or single-sex sports teams be applied when a person's self-identification, anatomy, and chromosomes don't fully match (a topic that arises especially often for transgender people, but may arise for others as well)? One side shouldn't be able to block the other side from speaking in places that the government has opened up to a wide variety of private views. And indeed First Amendment law forbids the government from engaging in such discriminatory exclusion of views that some communities may oppose.

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  1. WLF? Didn’t know they were still around..

    1. Was there ever an actual WLF, or is that just generic?

      If this is a new one, I wonder what took so long. Just from hearing of the protests makes me imagine they are tired of fake women pretending to identify as women to get female privileges. Or something like that.

      The backlash lashes back!

  2. Victimology 101:
    “our role as a safe, socially conscious space.”

    “valuing intellectual freedom, inclusivity, and community respect, our leadership is considering every option”

    “I hope you can recognize the difficult situation this has created for us.”

    1. Conservative bigots have rights, too.

      1. Who’s the conservative bigot in this Bolshevik/Menshevik struggle?

      2. I seriously doubt TERFs are “conservative bigots”.

      3. Arthur’s head is exploding.

      4. Of course they do have speech rights.

        Hint: You won’t like it if government gets out of control limiting speech. You fantasize its ok for democracy to safely wield this censorship power, when history shows that to be a chimera.

        We The People tell the government what they can and cannot do, not the other way around.

        1. The problem seems to be one subgroup of the People telling the government what to do because they disagree with another subgroup.

  3. There is good reason to treat biological sex differently. There is little or no reason to treat gender differently.

    1. Abdul “There is good reason to treat biological sex differently. There is little or no reason to treat gender differently.”

      You should have completed your sentence – There is good reason to treat biological sex differently. There is little or no reason to treat gender differently from biological sex.

    2. It’s a good thing our facilities and sports are sex-segregated and not gender-segregated.

      1. You’re in a bathroom, and someone else walks in.

        How do you determine if they’re in the right bathroom? And since I’ll be generous, and assume you’re not a peeping Tom, how do you do this without seeing their sex organs?

        1. There is a sign on the door saying male or female with pictures, so after walking into a bathroom corresponding to your physical sex oneself, in a semi-literate society, you presume that you don’t have to check the other people coming in after you or before you.

          It’s why this Spongebob bit was funny…he didn’t know which bathroom to go into: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZm1FWDKxWM

          1. […] you presume that you don’t have to check the other people coming in after you or before you.

            That’s a good policy.

            Y’all have been rejecting it ’round here for years.

            1. We live in a high trust society, that breaks down if it’s common for people to start walking into the women’s room with a lumberjack beard whilst claiming to be woman, or the men’s room in a bikini. If someone can pass for the opposite sex, nobody bats an eye because there is little interaction in a public restroom, even if that trust is violated. I don’t know if the guy in the urinal next to me is not paying his fair share and is a tax cheat either. The devil is in the details, and you know this, when it comes to school locker rooms and such.

              1. Moreover, some of the point is that those who are using the bathrooms that do not correlate to their biological sex are under an obligation to not make that known.

                Most of the objection is not to which way the feet are pointing in the stall next to you; it’s to people exposing themselves (in a way that might be appropriate in their own locker room or bathroom, but not that of the opposite sex) or perverts who use the anti-discrimination laws to prevent people from throwing them out of the space.

                If you ‘present as a woman,’ are changing in a woman’s locker room, and still have your, er, member, then you’re under an obligation to change in a bathroom stall or somesuch wherein no woman present has to see your member. If you are behaving in a way that makes the women present feel uncomfortable, they should be allowed to toss you out.

                The entire fight is about letting biological men flash their junk at women. If they weren’t, we would all happily go along with the polite fiction that the 6’3 person in a dress with an Adam’s apple is actually a biological woman. But this entire fight is about not allowing us that polite fiction, because said polite fiction imposes obligations upon men that they do not want to shoulder.

                1. Most of these objections are thusfar imaginary, though.

                  1. “Most of these objections are thusfar imaginary, though.”

                    I’m not an expert, but a man telling a woman that her concerns about sexual violence are “imaginary”, isn’t that some sort of mansplaining?

        2. WTF with bathrooms already. You people have to get beyond the potty stage.

  4. How would the court-approved* ‘speech by atheists and agnostics banned’ policy and practice in the Pennsylvania legislature fit into this analysis?

    * and Trump-approved, although reason.com’s link limit prevents a link to the ‘thank God for judges who silence atheists’ presidential tweet of September 1, 2019

    1. This isnt on point at all. Its an establishment clause case as to whether atheists could be Chaplains leading the government’s “ceremonial deism” processions. The Court’s reasoning is definitely arguable but this wasn’t about a public forum preventing atheist/agnostics from speaking.

      But as you are an obvious troll/algorithm of a progressive millenarian cultist, idk why I am responding to you at all

    2. True atheists consider agnostics to be pussies

      1. Anti-theists consider atheists to just be lazy.

  5. The fake Rev is wrong the clingers don’t have rights. They forfeit them as soon as they say anything that we woke betters disagree with. And if the we Chang our minds on what is wrong speak midway through one sentence then the speaker is still wrong.

    1. Clingers have rights.

      What they lack is legitimate prospects for avoiding continuing defeat in the culture war.

      This tends to make them cranky and disaffected.

      1. I wouldnt be so confident. Because while unchecked mass immigration from the 3rd world definitely bodes well for the dems, many of the immigrants are pretty socially conservative catholics, which could create an opening for an economically leftist socially traditionalist party

        1. How soon we forger how shocked, shocked! they were when Prop 8 passed in California, as millions of Catholic latinos said screw you to the “you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours” 2-dozen+ coalotion party design.

          Vox populi vox dei…until it gets in the way. Constitutional care…until it gets in the way.

      2. “What they lack is legitimate prospects for avoiding continuing defeat in the culture war.”

        And the progressives are going to fix it so that “progress in the culture war” means that sports is again limited to people with dicks.

        I mean, that’s pretty funny.

  6. “I hope you can recognize the difficult situation this has created for us.”

    Nobody should consider this a difficult situation. It’s a real no-brainer, both legally and public policy wise. If a librarian of all people thinks this is a tough call, they’re in the wrong line of work.

    1. “Librarian” is just the job title. The job is to Keep Seattle Woke.

  7. I await comment on this matter from our dedicated defenders of free speech.

    1. Very petty. Idk if its a public forum though

      1. Just looked at the story (which I hadn’t heard of before), and I’m with Dereliction — it seems petty and foolish, but when the government co-hosts an event (as the Embassy said was the case here), it can pick and choose speakers based on viewpoint. If, for instance, the Seattle Public Library wanted to put on a panel on women’s rights, or on transgender issues, it doesn’t have to be viewpoint-neutral in its invitations to prospective panelists (or its disinvitations). The limited public forum is set up when the government opens up space to private speakers or private group to engage in their own speech.

        1. From the article:

          “Sloan’s proposed last-minute inclusion in the program,” the embassy said, “did not follow the same deliberative process of joint decision-making and agreement that we followed when recruiting all other speakers.”

          But Struwe denied such a process had even existed. When it came to selecting the conference’s 10 other speakers, he told The Post, the embassy had no role in choosing whom to invite or in confirming their attendance at the conference, despite footing the bill for the event.

          So Ambassador Sands is not just petty and foolish, but a liar also.

          In any event, while I suppose you can rationalize this from a strict legal point of view, it undeniably sends a message to others who might speak at conferences even partly supported by the government to be careful what they say about Trump elsewhere.

          Legal or not, it has to have a chilling effect.

          1. “despite footing the bill for the event.”

            Pay the piper call the tune.

            1. Given how much y’all complain when other paid-for speakers get cancelled, I’m not sure that’s a consistent principle.

              1. The cancelling universities are usually not the ones paying for the speakers.

                1. They pay for and run the venue.

          2. The Danish finally said FU to Trumpkins, cancelling the whole event rather than allowing the embassy to be this petty and pathetic. (The embassy being run by a political appointee of Trump’s, of course.)

            1. “political appointee of Trump’s”

              Her immediate predecessor was a political appointee of Obama’s.

              “cancelling the whole event”

              Kinda petty and pathetic to do that.

    2. “our dedicated defenders of free speech.”

      State Dept. drone selects anti-Trump speaker [likely on purpose] from among numerous choices and responsible person pulls invitation.

      Got nothing to do with free speech.

      1. You’re an unbelievable idiot. The guy is an expert on NATO, the subject of the conference, and was invited by the Danes.

        1. Yeah, but if you let the Danes invite one speaker, they’ll demand to invite other speakers, and pretty soon they’ll be inviting all your speakers.

          1. Yup, once you have given the Danes speech, you will never get rid of the Danes.

        2. “Lars Bangert Struwe, the head of the Danish Atlantic Council, said “we have all the time known that Mr. Sloan has a critical approach towards President Donald Trump. It is no secret — especially when following his Twitter and Facebook profile.” AP article

          So a private drone, who admits to selecting him with full knowledge of his views. Mea culpa.

          1. You’re still an idiot.

            Struwe knew Sloan was critical of Trump. Does that mean he only wanted speakers critical of Trump? That he’s a “private drone?”

            Do you think that a forum on the future of NATO might sensibly include a speaker who discusses Trump’s effect on the alliance? Or is everyone just to bow down, as you do, to Trump the Mighty?

            1. So much anger.

              Look, I know impeachment is not going well politically and Trump’s approval is rising a bit and your leading candidate yells at elderly voters for no reason.

              So, I sympathize. Keep hope alive though.

    3. Not a good example of behavior honoring the principle of free speech. But also not a public forum so not even slightly illegal.

      1. I didn’t say it was illegal.

        I said it was bad behavior that will have some negative effect on free expression. Sort of like handing Microsoft instead of Amazon a $10 billion contract because Bezos owns the Washington Post, which has been critical of Trump.

        I think if you are concerned about free expression you might be worried about actions, especially government actions, that have a tendency to stifle it, even if they are not 1A violations.

        I haven’t noticed that here.

        1. So you think that think-tank decision will stifle free speech. I am not so worried. I think that because the non-public forum exception is well understood. The case you cite breaks no new ground. If, however, the public library were to successfully censor speech, that would be new ground – and a problem worth blogging about.

          1. So you think that think-tank decision will stifle free speech.

            Yes.

            Getting punished, however mildly, for expressing one’s political views does that.

            I think that because the non-public forum exception is well understood.

            I don’t think that’s relevant to my argument. Sure, stopping Sloan from speaking didn’t violate the 1A, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t harmful, and that others who have an interest in speaking, even on non-political matters, won’t take notice.

  8. I’m old enough to remember when a library was a place one went to, to borrow and read books, and BE QUIET.

    1. So do I. I also remember getting the rattan (cane whip) across my hand a few times for a transgression in 6th grade. Ah, the good old days.

      At least they did keep women out of Harvard back then.

    2. In the era of the internet learning and Amazon books, where used books of all types can purchases cheaply, libraries as “the poor man’s university” are outdated. They are run now as community centers with books on the side. I wish we could get rid of them, and the property tax levy that supports them, entirely. They are an outdated relic.

      1. A solution searching for a problem…

        1. You want property tax relief? I suppose not. But you have to hunt where the ducks are.

          1. All your library substitutes work great for middle class people. Not so great for poor people.

            But then your property tax relief issue is also one of the middle/upper class.

            Public goods that are mostly used by poor folks are still good.

      2. In my area, they have updated their mission to fill the gap that is missing between the gone and the school. It’s a literal jungle after school, yelling and running and horseplay. I vote against the Levy every year.

        1. It costs and awful lot to run local libraries, and having participated in at least one long-term strategic planning session for the library of a moderate sized town with a declining tax base, they themselves don’t know what their primary mission is these days.

          My local library is like yours, an after school day care. It requires the cops being there at times. My kids had fun there playing Dungeons & Dragons one night a week, until the campaign got woke that is, and no longer became about killing monsters and taking treasures from them. We rarely get books from there, as they have a decent library at the school, and the aforementioned used books for sale on Amazon, along with ebooks.

          1. Huh. Our local library system here around Greenville is just a quiet place with lots of books. A few kids playing in the corner with toys, sure, but quietly. They seem to know what their mission is here.

            I’m in there every few days; My son is a voracious reader, much like myself at that age, and it would be rather expensive to keep him in books otherwise.

            1. Good on you. It is wonderful that libraries exist. They make the world a better place. Even allowing for the dull and drab ones I think that collectively they more than pull their weight.

        2. I vote against the Levy every year.

          Antisemitic SOB.

      3. In San Francisco, the main branch of the public library is essentially a homeless shelter.

  9. God I love TERF wars.

  10. “Controversial groups like these …”

    When was the last time you saw the word ‘controversial’ used in a positive – or even neutral – sense? Controversial is a word you use to disparage, and to push out of reasonable discourse.

  11. “Similar events held at two other public libraries this year have been met with significant community protest in relation to the group’s views on transgender rights.”

    In other words, we’ll blame YOU for the unsavory actions of your critics. This type of thinking just encourages protests to be louder and more violent. If Group A can’t legally silence Group B then they only have to make it uncomfortable for anyone to host Group B. Instead of punishing Group A for their protests, venues will just refuse to give Group B space.

  12. Is it possible that the librarians know they’ll have to allow this conference, but they’re trying to position things in such a way so it will look like they’ve been *forced* to allow it – “the law leaves us no choice! We can’t afford to expose the taxpayers to liability!”

    1. Ideally from their point of view they get a memo from the County Attorney about their First Amendment obligations and they will then declare how they have unwillingly and sorrowfully, against their will, allowed the conference to proceed (while counterbalancing it with a drag queen story hour or some such).

    2. This was my reaction. They seem to understand they probably have to allow it, and “considering all options” is just a nice way of saying it. I don’t really see a problem here. “We’ve been asked not to hold it and we’re going to discuss this thoroughly with our lawyers” isn’t really concerning.

  13. Ha ha ha

    I love the smell of left on left fighting in the morning

    1. It smells like …. VICTORY!

      1. And fish.

          1. Hey, smell whichever side you want.

  14. As a public owned facility that is paid for by public taxes then is any (legal) organization is not allowed the use of the facility on a first come first serve bases then the it, the facility, should be closed to all.

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