ACLU Statement on Protests of Library Lecture on Islam

According to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune today, a lecture titled “Radical Islam: Its Components and Root Causes,” scheduled for this Saturday at the main San Diego Public Library, is facing a protest from the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, with the group asking the library to “withdraw its sponsorship” of the talk.

While CAIR is not asking for the event to be cancelled, it wants the library to stop publicizing the lecture and using library letterhead in relation to the lecture.

We support and defend CAIR’s free speech right to protest, but we do not believe the library “sponsors” a lecture by providing space or issuing an announcement about it.

While the ACLU does not condone positions taken by ACT! for America, of which the speaker, Michael Hayutin, is local director, the First Amendment protects them, as it protects everyone. Those who disagree with their positions may choose to ignore them or to speak out against them. While many may oppose ACT!’s divisive views and express disapproval of those views in the strongest terms, the First Amendment protects even thoroughly obnoxious viewpoints.

By providing a forum for diverse viewpoints on a variety of topics and issuing announcements about them, the San Diego Public Library does not necessarily sponsor any of those viewpoints. In the Union-Tribune article, the library director, Deborah Barrow, is quoted in a released statement saying, “The library hosts a wide variety of programs encompassing many different viewpoints and sometimes those programs are controversial, but we are not promoting any particular point of view. We are simply informing the community.”

As long as the library is treating presentations by community members equally, it is not sponsoring or endorsing the views of any particular program. Indeed, serious First Amendment issues might arise if the library refused to issue an announcement about one program in substantially the same way it issued an announcement about a program with a different viewpoint.