Debate on Free Speech at the Library Continues

A debate over free speech as it relates to distributing information in front of the Redding Library will begin a new chapter on March 2, when the Shasta Public Library Advisory Committee meets to discuss its proposed regulations.

At issue are the library’s guidelines about how and where groups can distribute information outside the library.

The debate arose in September when library officials apparently told members of the Bostonian Tea Party that materials they were planning to distribute might be subject to pre-approval. Concerns about where the group could set up and how they could distribute pamphlets also surfaced.

The dispute triggered Redding Community Services Director Kim Neimer and City Attorney Rick Duvernay to draft guidelines that library officials could provide to groups wanting to set up and distribute information outside the library.

Duvernay said the advisory committee has revised its regulations at least twice to accommodate the concerns of North State Tea Party Alliance and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over the issue.

The committee will likely agree on some version of its regulations at the March 2 meeting and submit them to the Library Board of Trustees (the Redding City Council) for review during its March 21 meeting.

One core issue is whether the outside of the library is to be considered a limited public forum area, or an open public forum area.

As the regulations were last drafted, the library would allow groups to set up a table (or stand) in an area just south of the entrance. Their materials would not be subject to pre-approval, but those distributing pamphlets could not approach library visitors or leave materials on the windshields of their vehicles. The groups (or anyone, for that matter) could approach a visitor to talk, but couldn’t approach with materials, Duvernay said on Thursday.

The regulations continue to violate First Amendment and California Constitutional rights, according to Tim Pappas, a Shasta County public defender who volunteers as an attorney for the North State Tea Party Alliance. The Tea Party Alliance has threatened to sue the city if the current regulations remain in place.

The ACLU has also expressed concerns about the library regulations. However, Don Yost, chairman for the ACLU’s Shasta Tehama Trinity County chapter, said the “ACLU prefers to work things out in advance as much as possible to avoid litigation.

“There’s been a little misunderstanding that the ACLU is all set to sue,” Yost added.

According to Pappas, restrictions such as banning leaflets from windshields and limiting the number of days a person or group can set up in front of the library are violations of free speech rights.

“I’ve explained (to the library committee) in detail why the restrictions are unconstitutional,” said Pappas. “The city is so pigheaded and they’ve set arbitrary numbers with no rationality behind them. The suggested limitations by the city violate not only the First Amendment, but the California Constitution as well.”

Government should provide basic services and not dictate how and where citizens can communicate with others on public grounds, Pappas said.

“When government intrudes beyond what we expect from it, then we need to sound the alarm,” Pappas said. “That’s what happened here.”

The regulations (or guidelines) are largely designed for logistical purposes, says Peggy O’Lea of the library advisory committee. She said the front entry to the library isn’t well designed as an active public forum area.

“We want to accommodate the needs of people who want an area to dispense information and balance it with the needs of people who are accessing the library,” O’Lea said. “There isn’t a lot of room there, so our effort is to accommodate the needs of everybody. My personal opinion was that (the last guidelines) were a good compromise.”

Duvernay said he’s struggled to find a guideline solution that the Tea Party Alliance finds acceptable.

“If we could figure out what they don’t like in terms of words (in the guidelines), we could probably get somewhere,” he said. “But every time they see something, there’s sort of a general objection. I’m not sure what I could write that they would find acceptable, except perhaps no policy at all.”

Duvernay said there are compelling reasons for restricting certain practices, such as placing leaflets on cars in an active pedestrian and vehicle area like the library parking lot.

“There’s really not a case on point that deals with the fronts of libraries,” Duvernay said. “The court has found reason to put restrictions on areas where there’s a lot of moving traffic. That’s our reason not to allow (leaflets on cars). There are cyclists, people carrying books, cars parking — it’s a highly constrained area. The court looks at what would be the purpose (for putting leaflets on windshields) and is there a reasonable alternative means for getting the word out. I feel comfortable that the court would uphold these facts and that precludes putting leaflets on windshields.”

Jim Dyar is a news, arts and entertainment journalist for A News Cafe and the former arts and entertainment editor for the Record Searchlight’s D.A.T.E. section. Jim is also a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding. E-mail him at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

Jim Dyar

is a journalist who focuses on arts, entertainment, music and the outdoors. He is a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding and can be reached at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com

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