ST. LOUIS -- A federal judge ordered a small library in southern Missouri to stop blocking access to websites related to Wicca and other minority religions, calling it a violation of patrons' First Amendment rights. U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber issued the ruling on Tuesday in a case involving the Salem Public Library.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued last year on behalf of Anaka Hunter of Salem, which is a largely Christian community of 5,000 residents in the Missouri Ozarks. It's the county seat of Dent County.
The lawsuit said Hunter was trying to do research at the library but filtering software blocked access to sites about things such as Wicca, a pagan religion that worships nature and involves witchcraft.
Edited news release from Salem Library:
On Monday, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri entered a consent judgment in the lawsuit filed by Anaka Hunter against the Salem Public Library and its director. The Salem Public Library and its director are pleased with the court's judgment. It requires the library to do nothing different than it had been doing for several months prior to the time Anaka Hunter filed her unnecessary lawsuit.
The library is particularly pleased that by consenting to the judgment, Anaka Hunter and her lawyers finally dropped their request that the library pay attorney fees and costs associated with the action. The demand that such fees be paid by the library is the obstacle that held up final resolution of the case for the last several months.
Under the judgment, the library will continue to use the same internet screening provider it has used for many years. This is the same internet screening service provider as ninety percent of public libraries in Missouri.
Months prior to the time the lawsuit was filed, the provider used by the library made changes in its minimal screening categories which the Salem Public Library and many other libraries in the state adopted. By agreeing to the consent judgment, the Salem Public Library does nothing more than agree to continue to use the new updated categories recommended by its service provider and adopted by the library before the suit was filed.
The library is pleased that it held firm and refused to reimburse plaintiff and her lawyers for fees and expenses associated with this unnecessary lawsuit.
"We are pleased this matter is behind us and that the public library and its employees can again focus its resources and revenues solely to the purpose of serving its patrons," said Glenda Wofford, director of the library.
The consent judgment lets the library to keep up its good work for its patrons and continue the fine balance of the public interest in open access to information with the library's legal obligation under the Children's Internet Protection Act.