The American Library Association (ALA) is refusing to back down from its stance that "hate groups" have the right to meet in public libraries.
Last week, the ALA revised its interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights to note that library meeting rooms should be open to all kinds of organizations. "If a library allows charities, non-profits, and sports organizations to discuss their activities in library meeting rooms," the revised interpretation says, "then the library cannot exclude religious, social, civic, partisan political, or hate groups from discussing their activities in the same facilities."
While the revision is new, the ALA's policy is not. In fact, under a section titled "Hate Speech and Hate Crime," the organization's website explains that as "sanctuary spaces for First Amendment ideals," libraries must protect hate speech and "symbols of hate." Hateful conduct, however, "is not tolerated."
Still, some people were upset that the ALA would reaffirm the First Amendment rights of "hate groups." Many took to Twitter to express their displeasure:
So catching up on this ALA Council...
Hate speech has no place in a library or just society, that that's not obvious to the council is clear and upsetting
When white supremacists are given a space in your library, you signal that every group/person they target is not welcome— Netanel Ganin (@OpOnions) July 9, 2018
I'm beginning to wonder what ALA's views on screaming fire in a crowded library would be?— Kate Deibel (@metageeky) July 12, 2018
Oh wait, by having hate groups present, you prevent large swaths of people from every going to the library.#NoHateALA
ALA recently updated their interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights around meeting rooms to state that if we allow "charities, non-profits, and sports" orgs that we "cannot exclude...hate groups." This milquetoast hands-off garbage centrism in pursuit of "neutrality" sucks.— Tyler Vachon (@tylervachoff) July 9, 2018
Libraries are supposed to be a safe place for patrons and staff, adhering to this bullshit makes libraries unsafe. You want our field to be more diverse, you want our institutions to serve all, yet we continuously do shit that makes those things impossible.— Natalie (@InkyLibrarian) July 9, 2018
The ALA responded by explaining that while it doesn't endorse hate groups or speech, the First Amendment leaves no choice in the matter. "Publicly funded libraries are bound by the First Amendment and the associated law governing access to a designated public forum," read a statement from James LaRue, director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom. "A publicly funded library is not obligated to provide meeting room space to the public, but, if it chooses to do so, under law cannot discriminate or deny access based upon the viewpoint of speakers or the content of their speech."
It's encouraging to see that even in the face of criticism, the ALA is reminding libraries that the First Amendment protects everyone's right to free speech. As the Supreme Court has held on numerous occasions, hate groups can express themselves just like anyone else. What they say might be despicable, but they still have the right to say it.
LaRue may have put it best on Twitter. "Are we so afraid of hate speech that we'd give up all the rest?" he wrote.
Right now, that's the only legal solution. But most library meeting room uses BUILD community. Are we so afraid of hate speech that we'd give up all the rest?— James LaRue (@jaslar) July 9, 2018
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