Earlier this week, Janet Nichols, an organizer for 40 Days for Life, was stopped last minute from showing a screening of Bloodmoney at the Marathon County Public Library. Nichols said she had booked the room and reserved the equipment in advance, and even mentioned that it was a film addressing the financial motivations underpinning the abortion industry. But in the actual booking process, she was not asked anything about who her group was or what film they would be showing.
The Library’s Director, Ralph Illick, admitted that he had no idea what the film was about–that is, until he started seeing messages popping up on Facebook from pro-abortion advocates who were planning to come and stage a protest. That got his attention, and that’s when Illick canceled the meeting.
But no one had asked the library to sponsor or endorse the movie. They had simply reserved some space in a public, tax-payer funded location–something the library has done regularly.
Now, 40 Days for Life is planning on filing a lawsuit based on a violation of their first amendment rights — namely, the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly.
Scott Corbett, Marathon County’s corporate counsel, has claimed that the library is only a “limited public forum,” citing a 2001 Supreme Court decision that invented this category. In a limited public forum, free speech is regulated. Corbett claims that the library was functioning within this precedent. “In the event that the showing of the movie would provoke a civil disturbance, the purpose server by the forum would be thwarted.” Since a library’s primary function is to provide public access to books, anything happening in the forum that would disrupt that primary purpose can be censored according to the 2001 decision.
Its understandable that the Library wanted to make sure they could still function as a library. But, in this case, Corbett is missing something pretty obvious–the real source of the disturbance. Who is the troublesome party here, the folks sitting quietly and watching a documentary, or the angry people causing a scene in and around the library?
Would This Have Happened if the Roles Were Reversed?
Let’s reverse the roles here for a minute. Let’s imagine that a women’s rights group reserved the room to watch a documentary about new technologies in contraception, including prostaglandin abortions, and let’s imagine that a pro-life group decided to organize a protest because of the inclusion of the abortion content. We can’t say for certain what would happen, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the documentary would get screened without a hitch, and that any disturbance outside would be dealt with by local authorities. And what precedent do you suppose those authorities would cite if the protesters claimed first amendment protection? Why, the 2001 Supreme Court decision on limited public forums, of course!
Are you following me here?
No one’s upset that the library was concerned about making sure it could run smoothly. But if they wanted to invoke the rules about a limited public forum, they should have done in right and gotten rid of the disturbance with the help of local authorities who are tasked with defending the rights of free citizens.
Support the Cause and Help Get Bloodmoney Seen
You can help get the word out by supporting Bloodmoney. Just order a copy of our full length documentary today!.
What Do You Think?
Was the Library within its rights? Should they have called in local police to make sure there was no disturbance of normal Library function? Do you believe the 2001 Supreme Court decision applies?
NEWS TALK WSAU.com, Tuesday March 29, 2011
Wausau Daily Herald, Mar. 30, 2011