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ADL Offers Tips to Public Libraries for Responding to Extremist Groups

New York, NY, November 14, 2002 … Asking public libraries to open their facilities for "organizational meetings" and other activities has become a common tactic of white supremacist groups. In requesting the use of meeting space, extremists have found a means to announce their presence in a community while generating controversy and setting the stage for larger protests, or even violence.

Public Libraries: A New Forum for Extremists


In an effort to counter this tactic with information, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has issued a guide for librarians, Public Libraries: A New Forum for Extremists. The guide presents some of the legal questions regarding how a library can respond legally and safely to requests by extremist groups for use of meeting space or other accommodation, while avoiding the kind of confrontations that have erupted in the past, such as the recent gathering of racists at a library in York, Pennsylvania, where police were called in to break up violent clashes between members of the anti-Semitic and racist World Church of the Creator and anti-racism activists. The guide will be distributed to more than 16,000 public libraries nationwide through the League's network of 30 regional offices.

"Extremist groups have realized that public libraries can serve as megaphones for their hateful and racist views by generating publicity and provoking a response," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "This has unnecessarily put libraries in the middle of a controversy that might otherwise be avoided, because the law makes clear that public libraries are not obligated to provide unfettered access to hatemongers."

The guide examines some of the legal questions regarding how a public library can respond when extremists attempt to use it as a venue to publicize their views. The guide also covers some of the positive responses that libraries and communities have developed to prevent violent confrontations or other activities prompted by racist meetings.

Some highlights include:

  • A library can decide to make its meeting rooms and facilities available to the public. But if a library opens its meeting rooms and facilities for public purposes, it may be found to have created a public forum. Access is at all times subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.

  • A public library may impose reasonable regulations on the manner of a proposed extremist speech. Libraries may also impose reasonable restrictions on the location, size and duration of the meetings. However, public libraries must equally apply any restriction to all speakers. If a library fails to impose its restrictions generally then it may not be allowed to later impose the restrictions on extremist speakers.

  • A public library may use reasonable safety and crowd-control measures to maintain security, peace and order when an extremist uses its meeting room or facilities. It can decide, if administrators believe it is appropriate, to have a strong police presence when an extremist uses a public library's meeting rooms or facilities.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.



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