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Publisher wants his newspaper returned to library display

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Publisher wants his newspaper returned to library display

  • The publisher of a newspaper pulled from a library display table after patrons complained, asked a federal appeals court to find that the library violated his First Amendment rights.

Aug. 14, 2003 — A three-judge panel for a U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta (11th Cir.) heard arguments Aug. 8 in a case brought by a specialty newspaper against a public library.

The Vidalia public library pulled The Gay Guardian, a bimonthly newspaper, which, according to court records, focuses on issues of interest to the general community and to “the gay/lesbian community in particular,” from a display table after patrons complained about the publication’s presence.

According to an Associated Press report, Cathy Harris Helms, the attorney for the Ohoopee Regional Library System, told the court that the Guardian was one of several publications pulled from what was designated a “free publications” table.

Beth Littrell, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, which is representing Guardian editor Ronald Mangum, who uses the professional pseudonym Ronald Marcus, told the court that the editor’s First Amendment rights were violated when the library refused to let him restock copies of his publication on the table. A few days earlier Mangum had received permission from the library to display his publication on the table.

Mangum also alleges that existing copies of the publication were removed and possibly destroyed.

The library told Mangum that the newspapers were removed because of “a religious issue, gays versus Christians,” according to court documents.

“The library created a designated public forum by allowing the public unrestricted use of the display table and can not on appeal revise its policy,” Mangum’s attorneys wrote in a brief to the appellate court.

Mangum brought his appeal after the U.S. District Court judge in July 2002 refused to grant him permission to restock the library table.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Avant Edenfield held that library did not violate the First Amendment rights of the publisher because it closed the table to all nongovernmental publications.

“The results were wrong,” Littrell said. “The First Amendment doesn’t allow the government to close a forum just to silence the speech of one.”

Mangum’s attorneys also told the appeals court that the district court erred in its definition of a public forum “to include a fourth tier of analysis in order to create a new fourth type of forum, the ‘hybrid limited/nonpublic’ forum, which tolerates both content-based and viewpoint restrictions on speech.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has defined three categories of government-owned property: traditional public fora, designated public fora and nonpublic fora. In each case, limitations on speech are to be narrowly tailored and cannot be based on the speaker’s viewpoint.

“But the question is with forum closure to silence either the viewpoint of one speaker or the controversy created by the content by one speaker — whether the First Amendment will tolerate that,” Littrell said. “I hope that the Eleventh Circuit will rule in favor of free speech.”

(The Gay Guardian v. Ohoopee Regional Library System; Media counsel: Beth Littrell, American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia) JL

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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