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Jewish World Review/Dec. 2, 1998/ 13 Kislev, 5759

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez Remember when libraries were for expanding the mind!?

VIRGINIA'S LOUDOUN COUNTY, best known until now for its rolling hills and handsome horse farms, may soon be memorialized as the community where the constitutional right to view child pornography, bestiality and snuff films in a public library was first established, thanks to a federal court ruling last week.

In a sweeping decision, District Court judge Leonie M. Brinkema struck down a county library policy that blocked access to sexually explicit Internet materials from public library computer terminals.

Last year, the county library board voted to install special computer software on all library terminals so that computers could not serve as taxpayer-sponsored peep shows. But a group calling itself "Mainstream Loudoun" sued, arguing that the software violated the First Amendment rights of library patrons, and the judge agreed.

James Madison, the author of the First Amendment and a Virginian, must be turning in his grave. Surely he could not have imagined that the words he penned to protect political speech would one day be perverted to defend public access to pornography.

In some small irony, it was during Madison's presidency that the Constitution itself was sent to Loudoun County for safekeeping during the British assault on Washington in the War of 1812. Now, it's the county that is under assault, and the Constitution is the chief weapon.

The county library board now faces a choice: Remove all Internet access from public libraries, or allow anyone who accesses the Internet on a library computer to download whatever he chooses ---- no matter how violent or obscene the material or how much it might offend other patrons or potentially threaten their safety.

Richard H. Black, an attorney and the author of the Loudoun County library board's Internet policy and now a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, cautions that "the sole reason that individuals access pornography is for sexual arousal." The question, he says, is "whether libraries are appropriate places for sexual activity."

But the legal issue is whether communities have the right to prohibit such sexual activity from public spaces, especially those in which children freely roam. It is one thing to allow X-rated movie theaters and bookstores to peddle their smut to adults who pay for it themselves, but it is quite another to force taxpayers to provide the same material and worse in a county building open to persons of all ages.

For its efforts in making county libraries safe for pornography, Mainstream Loudoun has received the "intellectual freedom" award from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign Graduate School of Library and Information Science. This says more about the radical transformation of the library profession than it does about freedom, intellectual or otherwise.

The American Library Association, for example, opposes all efforts to filter Internet materials even for children. "Blocking material leads to censorship. That goes for pornography and bestiality, too. If you don't like it, don't look at it," ALA official Judith Krug told "Enough Is Enough," a Virginia group that opposes Internet pornography.

"If you don't want your children to access that information, you had better be with your children when they use a computer," said Krug. Indeed, that is Mainstream Loudoun's answer as well. The group claims that its suit was not intended to prevent the library from using some Internet-blocking software. "If there is to be Internet filtering, let the adults choose in private because it is up to the parents to decide what their children can and cannot see while on line," a spokesman for the group told one local newspaper.

But most adults cannot be with their children every moment of the day and night and rarely sit beside them looking over their shoulders at the public library. Judge Brinkema and the good folks of Mainstream Loudoun couldn't care less about these parents' rights to protect their children or the community's interest in upholding standards of decency. If their radical interpretation of the First Amendment prevails, it will not only pollute the culture but debase the very liberties they claim to want to protect.


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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.