Blogger Intellectual Freedom Committee

Too Much Free Speech?

Portrait of Bruce Farrar angry
Portrait of the author as an angry old white man – Photo by Rose Farrar

Is bullying protected by the first amendment?

In light of recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia where demonstrations have led to violence, not a few of you may be wondering about our association’s commitment to free speech and intellectual freedom, especially when much of the speech reported on and recorded sounded somewhat less than “intellectual.” The first amendment was invoked by white supremacists who claimed that their right to free expression was being denied. But when courts—I speak generally now, I’m a librarian not a lawyer, so don’t quote me without first consulting with someone whose been admitted to the bar. She’ll be able to either affirm or correct what I say—have ruled on free expression, or as we call it, intellectual freedom, issues, they have made a clear distinction between expression (verbal, written or visual) and action. Behavior, not just content, is what counts. More concretely: It’s OK to write a murder mystery; it’s not OK to murder someone. It’s not OK to cry, “Fire,” in a crowded theater, and it’s not OK to use provocative words in the hopes of starting a fight.

For us, as stated in the newly stated interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, “The American Library Association affirms that equity, diversity, and inclusion are central to the promotion and practice of intellectual freedom.” In other words, we will challenge censorship, but we will not tolerate intolerant behavior in our libraries. Intolerant behavior includes harassing behavior such as bullying or the restriction of services to a particular group of our customers. I challenge you to fully read this new interpretation and then look at the policies of your institution. You may find something to discuss with your supervisor for clarification or possibly a suggestion for change.


Bruce Farrar is a retired librarian in Houston, Texas and currently one of the co-chairs of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee.

One comment

  1. Kelly Doolittle

    Nicely put!

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