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County board asks library panel to ban distribution of free weekly newspaper

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VIRGINIA -- The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed its staff in late September to find "a legal way" to…

VIRGINIA — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed its staff in late September to find “a legal way” to ban distribution of the Washington Blade, a free gay newspaper, at the county library, or to abolish the Library Board of Trustees.

The Virginia Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has written in protest to the board, calling the vote “an appalling act of governmental censorship and an abuse of authority.”

The American Society of Newspaper Editors wrote to the board on October 1 asking them to support “the library board and stand up for the First Amendment.”

The 5-1 vote to approve the motion to ban by Supervisor Ernest Berger (R-Dranesville) took place on September 27 after the board watched a slide presentation about “explicit” advertisements in the Blade produced by opponents of the newspaper.

The Washington Post reported that the newspaper’s opposition is composed of 200 conservatives, some trained by the Christian Coalition, a conservative political group started by evangelist Pat Robertson, which urges Christian activism in local public life.

A group of about 20 activists who initiated the campaign contended that the Blade is too easily available to children, tries to recruit young people into “a homosexual lifestyle” and includes highly graphic and sexually explicit display ads, the Post reported.

The dispute began in February when the Fairfax County Library Board voted 6-4 to reject a measure to stop distribution of free papers that are available by subscription, which included the 27 copies of the Blade at each of the library’s 22 branches.

After initial complaints, the Blade moved its personal ads to a pink pullout, which was not included in copies distributed in the area libraries. The action did not stop protesters from removing copies of the newspaper from the library branches.

Groups of about 100 protesters began attending the regular monthly library board meetings to demonstrate against distribution. On March 24, the library board voted 8-4 in favor of continuing distribution and 9-3 to maintain copies in the collection at the local branches.

In May, the Board of Supervisors suggested the library board consider placing the newspaper behind counters or otherwise restrict its access to children and asked the library board to revisit the issue of its distribution. The library board refused to change its policy at its May meeting.

“The majority of the community has said nothing about this,” said Phylis Salak, chairman of the Library Board. “We have only heard from a small, but very vocal group.”

Free newspapers, including the Blade, Pathways, Washington Parent, the Gabriel Express and New Thought are distributed in libraries in neighboring Arlington, the District of Columbia, and Montgomery County in Maryland and are easily accessible to patrons entering the library.

In Montgomery County, the police charged Stephen George with removing copies of the Blade from the Wheaton Branch of the public library. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for October 25 in Montgomery County District Court.