Sunday, September 27, 2009

Banning Offensive Material?

“Our constitutional commitment to free speech, however, does not permit such subjective and ad hoc decisions.  It establishes the public library as one of the places where majority sentiment or majority vote about offensiveness is irrelevant.  A library attempts to serve all members and all interests in a community.  Except in the narrow category of sexual obscenity, discussed in chapter 3, the law does not recognize a First Amendment exception based on subjective degrees of offensiveness.  As the Supreme Court has stated, ‘It is firmly settled that under our Constitution the public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers.’[1]  It has further added offensiveness is ‘classically not [a] justification validating the suppression  of expression protected by the First Amendment.  At least where obscenity is not involved, we have consistently held that the fact that protected speech may be offensive to some does not justify its suppression.’   Although it would be much more pleasant if people spoke and wrote with civility and avoided noxious language and ideas, it remains ‘a prized American privilege to speak one’s mind, [even though], not always with perfect good taste.’ [3]”
--Constitutional law professor Robert S. Peck, in Libraries, The First Amendment, and Cyberspace: What You Need to Know.  The cases Peck cites are [1] Street v. New York, 394 U.S. 576; [2] Carey v. Population Services International,  431 U.S. 678; and [3] Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252.

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