Library Cancels Showing of Anti-Abortion Film (for Fear of Protests), Relents Under Threat of Litigation

The Thomas More Society reports:

Today, Thomas More Society attorneys confirmed that Marathon County library officials have agreed to rescind their decision to cancel a showing of the pro-life documentary “BloodMoney” by the Wausau “40 Days for Life” group in one of the library’s public meeting rooms. Scott Corbett, Marathon County Corporation Counsel, said in a letter to the Thomas More Society, “The library will honor its original commitment.” Thomas More Society’s lawsuit, filed yesterday in Madison, Wisconsin, federal court made clear that the library was censoring and suppressing the constitutionally-protected free speech of Wausau 40 Days for Life.

“We are pleased that our client’s right to free speech was vindicated. However, it’s disappointing that a federal lawsuit was necessary to prevent a public library from engaging in censorship,” said Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel for the Thomas More Society. “In the end, the library followed its stated policy that meeting rooms are to be allocated without regard to the beliefs of those using them.”

Today’s letter from the County Counsel suggests that the library’s cancellation of the showing was motivated by “concerns raised by Facebook regarding the staging of a protest at the library as a result of the client’s actions.”

The library of course has no obligation to allow groups to open its meeting rooms to the public. But this library has done so, and, once it has done so, it can’t restrict access to those rooms based on the viewpoint of the speakers. And a worry that the viewpoint of the speakers will bring in protesters — who can of course be required to comply with library rules, such as by staying on the sidewalk outside and being quiet enough to disrupt the use of the library — does not, I think, justify restrictions, either. See this post about a similar case at a university (though there the university was worried about violence, and not just protests, and required the payment of extra fees for security rather than just excluding the speaker outright).

Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer.