The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing a library in rural Missouri for constitutional violations after a community member complained to the rights group that she was denied access to witchcraft and astrology websites on the library’s Internet.
Anaka Hunter says she was denied access to the websites by the director of the Salem Public Library in the town of Ozark in Salem, Mo. The ACLU claims public libraries are constitutionally obligated to provide access to all content that has not been deemed pornographic.
Hunter requested to view a Wicca (or witchcraft), website and Wikipedia page, as well as Astrology.com and the Encyclopedia of Death and Dying – a website that seeks to objectively detail all faiths’ teachings on death.
The library had categorized these sites as “occult” and thus banned them.
Hunter and the ACLU say access to non-pornographic material is the duty of a public library, and she should have been given access unmolested.
“It’s unbelievable that I should have to justify why I want to access completely harmless websites on the Internet simply because they discuss a minority viewpoint,” Hunter said in an ACLU statement. “It’s wrong and demeaning to deny access to this kind of information.”
According to the lawsuit, Hunter approached the library board at a Nov. 2010 meeting to discuss the limited access. After dismissing her requests, a member of the board allegedly told Hunter: “If that’s all, we have business to discuss.”
Library director Glenda Wofford did not return phone calls to The Christian Post but said last week that Hunter failed to specify which sites she was denied access to and that the library did not intentionally prohibit access to the sites, according to The Associated Press.
Anthony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, says the Salem Public Library needs to be a center for education, not an area where censorship prematurely judges viewpoints and lifestyles.
“Rather than dismissing the concerns of its patrons, the library should make every effort to ensure that its filtering software doesn’t illegally deny access to educational resources on discriminatory grounds,” Rothert said in a statement. “The library is the last place that should be censoring information about different cultures.”
The Salem Public Library does offer several Wicca books, including Witches and Witchcraft by the editors of Time-Life and The Wiccan Mysteries: Ancient Origins & Teachings, in its catalog by Raven Grimassi.
It is currently unknown what retribution Hunter and the ACLU will seek.
The town of Salem has just fewer than 5,000 residents, according to recent census data, and the average income is around $28,000 per household.