ST. LOUIS -- A federal judge has ordered a small library in southern Missouri to stop blocking access to websites related to Wicca and other minority religions, calling it a violation of patrons’ First Amendment rights.
U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber issued the ruling Tuesday in St. Louis in a case involving the Salem Public Library.
“Even libraries that are required by federal law to install filtering software to block certain sexually explicit content should never use software to prevent patrons from learning about different cultures,” Tony Rothert, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, said in a statement Wednesday.
Library director Glenda Wofford declined comment. A message seeking comment from the library’s attorney was not immediately returned.
The ACLU sued last year on behalf of Salem resident Anaka Hunter. Salem is a largely Christian community of 5,000 residents in the Missouri Ozarks.
Hunter was researching death and death rituals in minority religions in an effort to get more in touch with her Native American roots through spirituality, the ACLU said.
The library’s filtering software blocked access to sites about Wicca, a pagan religion that worships nature and involves witchcraft. Hunter was also unable to access sites about Native American religions.
The suit said the library’s Netsweeper software blocked sites such as the official webpage of the Wiccan church; the Wikipedia entry for Wicca; Astrology.com; and the Encyclopedia on Death and Dying, which contains discussions on death and death rituals for several cultures and religions.
The suit said some religions were labeled “occult” or even “criminal.”
Hunter complained and the library unblocked some, but not all, information, the ACLU said.
“Public libraries should be maximizing the spread of information, not blocking access to viewpoints or religious ideas not shared by the majority,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freed of Religion and Belief.