Mainstream Loudoun is an organization fighting the religious right's attempt to control schools and libraries in Loudoun County, Virginia. Here is a release about the library board of trustees' vote to install blocking software.
Those who supported this policy spoke to only one issue-- pornography--interspersed with personal attacks on the members of Mainstream Loudoun. Supervisor Burton responded to Chairman Nicholas' attacks on Mainstream by demanding he apologize to us publicly. Nicholas declined.
Doug Henderson, Director of Libraries for Loudoun County, also came under fire. Some in the audience felt he could not be trusted because of his association with the ALA. His proposal for installing a pornography-free library channel, which would contain only information selected by (ALA!) librarians, failed to get off the ground. Dixie Sanner, of the anti-porn organization Enough is Enough, claimed that putting the library staff in charge of selecting material is "like putting the wolf in charge of the hen house."
Sanner also presented the Library Board with petitions supporting a restrictive policy. When asked how many signatures were on the petitions, someone in audience responded vaguely with "several hundred." Sanner had blackened out the addresses and phone numbers of the signees on about half the petitions and refused to turn in the rest of the petitions until she had blackened out their addresses and phone numbers also. Her explanation was that she feared the signees would receive harassing phone calls if she turned the unaltered petitions over to the library staff. She was eventually convinced it would be safe to submit the rest of the petitions as they were.
"That's an amazing insinuation!" was one stunned trustee's public reaction to Sanner's presentation.
Dick Black, the trustee who authored this policy, introduced it by summoning visions of women stalked by "creeps" viewing pornography and of "people drawn there [to the library] because they know "they can get them both [children & pornography] in the same place." Toward the end of the meeting, Black...whipping up the audience as though he were running for office...vowed he would not "retreat," and, with the help of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ - Pat Robertson's legal arm), would win this case.
And so, by painting lurid scenes of sexual perverts haunting the library and describing, sometimes in unnecessary detail, the most obscene images they found on the Internet, those preoccupied with the darker side of the Internet won the day.
An editorial in the Washington Post (10/25/97) states our case well: "Even for a community that decides it wants such protection [filters], though, it makes no sense to eliminate the option of unrestricted access for adults--or for parents who want their kids to learn about the adult universe, as is surely their right. Loudoun ought to think carefully about whether it really means to offer its citizens such artificially limited horizons."
Mainstream Loudoun has very serious concerns about this Internet policy. What follows are excerpts from our letter to the editor which highlights just what these concerns are.
Mainstream Loudoun is particularly concerned that the newly adopted Internet policy requires filters that not only block "child pornography and obscene material" but also "material deemed Harmful to Juveniles." By prohibiting access to any site that is considered inappropriate for children, the Board has relegated all adults in Loudoun County to the electronic version of the children's reading room. Blocking speech which is Constitutionally protected for adults, without giving them the option to turn the filter off, is a clear violation of the First Amendment.
The Board never considered Mainstream's compromise policy, which would have provided full filtering to those patrons and parents who so desired, but would have protected the Constitutional right of adults and parents to decide whether to use filters and what is appropriate for their families. In a democracy, adult autonomy and parental rights should trump "Big Brother" every time.
More troubling, on October 1 Supervisor Whitener (who appointed Dick Black, the policy's author, to the Library Board) offered a resolution in support of a restrictive policy which the Board of Supervisors passed 5-2. The last section of this resolution states: "Be it Further Resolved that we support efforts to limit public funds from being used to purchase magazines, books or to access Internet sites that are pornographic." Apparently, Internet sites are not the only items on the chopping block. We are concerned how the person wielding the axe will define pornography...a term that for some includes respected literary works and sensitive information.
The Board's framing of this issue as "sexual harassment" not only demeans the seriousness of true workplace harassment, it expands even more the list of materials which can be restricted.
These efforts to restrict protected speech are not new. On February 27, 1995, the Library Board of Trustees voted 4-3 to remove anti-censorship statements from Loudoun's library policy including the following: "Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval." (For details regarding the history of this restrictive action, see our Web site.
Somewhere (but not in Loudoun County) a software firm's employee (but not a judge, as required by law) will decide what Loudoun citizens may or may not access on the Internet. This firm may have political affiliations or that employee may harbor prejudices which could influence what information they choose to deny us. But we will never know, since companies who design filtering software do not make a practice of revealing what sites they block. How many Loudoun residents feel comfortable leaving their Constitutional rights in the hands of software designers?
The true danger here--the erosion of our First Amendment rights-- must not be obscured by the emotional wedge issue of "pornography."