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Free speech at the library


WORLD Radio - Free speech at the library

Moms for Liberty sues a California library that shut down an event about men in women’s sports

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MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Free speech at the library.

Last month, members of the group Moms for Liberty sued two library officials in Yolo County, California.They allege violations of their free speech rights.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Now, before we get into that story, a quick word about Moms for Liberty. The organization is facing controversy down in Florida, where co-founder Bridget Ziegler has admitted to serious sexual indiscretion, along with her husband Christian, who is facing a criminal investigation. WORLD asked Moms for Liberty to comment, and I’ll read part of its response:

“We have been truly shaken to read of the serious, criminal allegations against Christian Ziegler. We believe any allegation of sexual assault should be taken seriously and fully investigated.

“Bridget Ziegler resigned from her role as co-founder with Moms for Liberty within a month of our launch in January of 2021. She has remained an avid warrior for parental rights across the country.”

“To our opponents who have spewed hateful vitriol over the last several days: We reject your attacks. We will continue to empower ALL parents to build relationships that ensure the survival of our nation and a thriving education system.We are laser-focused on fundamental parental rights, and that mission is and always will be bigger than any one person.” —Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice

REICHARD: Well, back in California at the library, parental rights aren’t the only concern…free speech is. Back in August, the Yolo County chapter of Moms for Liberty reserved space in a local library to conduct a forum on keeping sports and spaces safe for girls. During the event, a library worker tried to shut down the speaker, Sophia Lorey.

Sound courtesy of the California Family Counsel:

LOREY: Allowing biological men in women’s sports does not create an equal playing field but instead robs young biological girls of their athletic aspirations.

SCOTT LOVE: You’re continuing to say that…(people talking over each other). I’m asking you to leave or we’ll shut the entire program down.

BROWN: The library worker succeeded in shutting down the event citing library policy on respect for people, materials, and furniture. But Moms for Liberty contends that the library upheld that policy in an unfair way, since they didn’t remove disrespectful protesters.

Joining us now to discuss the case is Alan Gura. He’s the Vice President for Litigation at the Free Speech Institute, and counsel in Moms for Liberty’s lawsuit.

REICHARD: Alan, good morning.

ALAN GURA: Good morning.

REICHARD: So what are the arguments on each side? Moms for Liberty and the library?

GURA: The library is allowed to pick and choose what books it wants to put on the shelf. To the extent that you know, the library has to choose what it's going to circulate to the public, that's the library's call. But if the library is gonna have a room open for the public to use for people to come and meet and have events, and talk about their ideas, talk about whatever it is they want to discuss, then the library cannot censor the speech that occurs in those rooms. The library has to let people speak and express whatever viewpoint they wish. The First Amendment doesn't require the library to have a room available for the public, but if the library chooses to open up what we call a forum for the community to come in and talk, they have to let everybody talk and they have to let people express their viewpoints. Rules that require speakers to respect other points of view are unconstitutional. First of all, respect, if you can even define it, is a viewpoint, right? You're allowed to be disrespectful. The First Amendment lets you offend people. There's no point in protecting speech that everybody agrees with, that nobody really cares much about. The First Amendment is there to defend you when you want to say the things that will offend other people, that will cause a reaction, that will tempt people to try to shut you down. That's when the First Amendment is most important. So respect is a viewpoint, disrespect is a viewpoint, it cannot be mandated but also it's a very vague requirement, right? What is respectful, what is disrespectful, that's not something that can have defined specifically, it's really in the eye of the beholder. That makes it unconstitutionally vague and doesn't give anybody notice as to what behavior is allowed or disallowed. So we think the rule about respect has to go and, of course, any kind of policy that we would pursue to discriminate on the basis of viewpoint to prevent people from speaking about transgender care, women, men in sports, all those types of interferences with people speech are not constitutional.

REICHARD: Well, how is the library defending what it did?

GURA: Well, the library actually is now feeling that they understand that they went overboard and that this isn't supposed to happen. They are making some noises about the fact that the next event will not have these problems. There is an event the clients are planning to hold in March, and the library is saying that that event will not be interfered with. But we're still waiting to see if their actual policies are going to be changed. They're telling us that they are reexamining their policies. But they must understand that there's no defense for the type of behavior in which the library has been engaging.

REICHARD: Case precedent matters, and each side will cite prior rulings to bolster their case. What legal precedents can Moms for Liberty use? The other side?

GURA: Well, just about every single first amendment decision that's come down by the court has clarified that the government may not engage in viewpoint discrimination. Most recently, we've had an a pair of cases at the Supreme Court that dealt with allegedly offensive language and trademarks. That, you know, people wanted to use what was perceived as a vulgarity or racial epithet in a trademark. And the the trademark office refused granting a trademark protection to those terms. And the Supreme Court said, No, that speech is protected. And just because somebody is going to be offended, doesn't mean you can discriminate against the speech. And this is very important for people to understand. The government cannot censor your speech because it fears a reaction from people who don't want you to talk, right? There's no such thing as a heckler's veto. There was a case many years ago where some Nazis wanted to have a protest in Georgia. And the government said, Listen, you know, your speech is going to attract all kinds of negative attention, given the content of your speech, and the Supreme Court said, No, you know, there's no, there's no such thing as allowing the fear of negative reaction speech, allowing that to be a basis for punishing speech or for taxing in any way. So the library can't tell us well, there's a lot of trans people that community they'll be upset. Well, that's too bad. If people are disruptive, the police should be involved. The library has to maintain order, but it can't use the threat of disorder to silence people.

REICHARD: We covered many free speech cases in 2023 on this program…but what makes the Yolo County case stand out?

GURA: It's really the most, one of the most brazen examples of censorship that I've seen, and I've seems some fairly brazen ones. But the library was absolutely adamant that they could silence speech that they didn't like. And the librarian even made up this argument that there's allegedly some law in California that forbids people for misgendering. That's not true. If there were such a law, you'd have to stand back and you know, watch all the lawyers run to the courthouse to get that struck down. So just the sheer gall of trying to censor speech that they disliked. That's just not the law. They're in the wrong business. If you cannot handle people disagreeing with your political viewpoints, you should not be working at a library.

REICHARD: Alan Gura is the Vice President for Litigation at the Free Speech Institute. Alan, thanks for joining us today!

GURA: Thank you so much.

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