Protect Your Kids
Protect Your Kids 3 minute read

New York City Libraries: A Haven for Porn Users

Last Updated: April 18, 2015

Is porn protected by the First Amendment? Technically no. But the New York City libraries disagree.

“In deference to the First Amendment protecting freedom of speech,” said a library spokeswoman, “the New York Public Library cannot prevent adult patrons from accessing adult content that is legal.”

Okay. But the question nobody’s asking is: What adult content is actually legal?

Federally funded libraries must adhere to the Children’s Internet Protection Act. This law requires all public computer terminals in libraries that access the Internet to have filtering. Adults can request the filter be turned off “to enable access for bona fide research or other lawful purposes.”

Fair enough. But again, the critical question for libraries is this: When is looking at pornography in a public setting considered lawful?

No Easy Answers

The question cannot be solved merely by appealing to the First Amendment as if all forms of speech and press are protected rights. In 1957, Justice William Brennan of the Supreme Court said “[T]his Court has always assumed that obscenity is not protected by the freedoms of speech and press.” This is the very reason why sexual obscenity laws are constitutional and currently on the books.

Nor can the question be solved by saying libraries should not censor anything because it is their mission to be a forum for education. The fact is libraries censor all the time whenever their directors and boards sit down to decide how they spend their money: Should we subscribe to National Geographic or to Playboy this year? Choices like this are made all the time.

Who Defines Obscenity?

But who’s to say what is really “obscene”? One man’s obscenity is another man’s fetish, right?

Not exactly. Currently, the way the Supreme Court has interpreted the law, sexual obscenity is defined as “works which, taken as a whole, appeal to the prurient interest in sex, which portray sexual conduct in a patently offensive way and which, taken as a whole, do not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” The court added further that this test for true obscenity was intended to “isolate ‘hard core’ pornography from expression protected by the First Amendment” (Miller vs. California). Furthermore, the court has also made it clear who should make these judgments: “the average person, applying contemporary community standards” (Roth v. United States).

Making it practical, this means when a library is trying to decide what content to allow on their computer terminals, there are some basic questions they can ask:

  • According to our community standards, is this material considered “hardcore” pornography?
  • According to our community standards, does this material appeal to a prurient (unwholesome) interest in sex?
  • According to our community standards, does this material portray sex in a patently offensive way?
  • According to our community standards, does this material lack serious literary, artistic, or scientific value?

A good library Internet policy can answer these concerns. Coupled with good technology, libraries can make these policies into a practical reality, allowing public libraries to be places where real learning can happen and not safe havens for those interested in viewing material offensive to the community at large.

This also prevents other legal concerns. For instance, when female librarians or minors who are employed by the library continually need to interact with male porn users, this can amount to a sexually hostile work environment. This isn’t a phantom fear, either. The Minneapolis Public Library awarded librarians half a million dollars in damages and attorney’s fees for this very reason.

The plaintiffs in the Minneapolis case made their position very clear: “The American Library Association’s concern has been entirely with the rights of the person viewing obscene images, to the exclusion of the rest of the public.” The same is the case at the New York libraries: they are more concerned about stepping on the so-called rights of those who want to use the library to view porn than they are the rights of all those around them who do not.

  1. Todd S

    Is this sort of like protecting a person’s right to smoke despite the cancer they are spreading around them?

    I found this blog via twitter and thoroughly appreciate the work you guys are doing. I facilitate a men’s group that deals particularly with sexual sin and added this blog as a resource for the guys to use.

    Todd S
    Battle Plan Ministries – North Mississippi
    Hernando MS

    • Luke Gilkerson

      @Todd – Yes, it is a similar situation. At least in part. The issue is not about passing new laws (such as passing laws about smoking in public buildings) but about enforcing existing laws (obscenity laws). I do hope Congress begins to put some pressure on the Justice Department about this.

      Thanks for passing along our resources to others!

    • Todd S

      Well Luke, what you hope of Congress would require logic. Thank you for the clarification regarding passing versus enforcement.

      TS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related in Protect Your Kids

Editor's Picks

Phone and a computer configured to block porn sites.

Protect Your Kids

How To Block Porn Sites

The amount of pornography available online can be disheartening. But here are…

8 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

Close-up of parent holding a child's hand.

Protect Your Kids

How Churches Can Rescue This Generation From Pornography

Culture is always changing. And there are things in our culture that…

4 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

Female student writing a scholarship essay.

Protect Your Kids

5 Eye-Opening Revelations From 850 Scholarship Essays

Each year, Covenant Eyes holds a scholarship contest for current members who…

4 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

Silhouette of a man walking through a tunnel.

Protect Your Kids

The Sound of Freedom and the Problem of Pornography

The Covenant Eyes Podcast recently sat down with Operation Underground Railroad founder,…

2 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

A group of three young computer programmers working on laptops.

Protect Your Kids

Porn and Artificial Intelligence

When Chat GPT launched in November 2022, artificial intelligence took the world…

4 minute read

Read Post

Editor's Picks

Parents with their teenage son.

Protect Your Kids

Why Parents Must Talk About Sex

When my son was sixteen, he attended a youth group meeting during…

5 minute read

Read Post

Related in Protect Your Kids

Phone and a computer configured to block porn sites.

Protect Your Kids

How To Block Porn Sites

The amount of pornography available online can be disheartening. But here are…

The amount of pornography available online can be disheartening. But here are some practical steps you can take to block porn sites on your computer or mobile device. Porn-blocking software makes it easier to block…

8 minute read

0 comments

Close-up of parent holding a child's hand.

Protect Your Kids

How Churches Can Rescue This Generation From Pornography

Culture is always changing. And there are things in our culture that…

Culture is always changing. And there are things in our culture that take us away from Christ. Every generation tends to feel doom and gloom at the rate of change. Ours is not different in…

4 minute read

0 comments

Female student writing a scholarship essay.

Protect Your Kids

5 Eye-Opening Revelations From 850 Scholarship Essays

Each year, Covenant Eyes holds a scholarship contest for current members who…

Each year, Covenant Eyes holds a scholarship contest for current members who are enrolled as full-time students. This year, we had over 850 applicants! These amazing students answered questions about integrity using today’s technology, their…

4 minute read

0 comments

Silhouette of a man walking through a tunnel.

Protect Your Kids

The Sound of Freedom and the Problem of Pornography

The Covenant Eyes Podcast recently sat down with Operation Underground Railroad founder,…

The Covenant Eyes Podcast recently sat down with Operation Underground Railroad founder, Tim Ballard. Tim’s story has been dramatized in the new blockbuster movie, The Sound of Freedom. In our conversation with Tim, we learned…

2 minute read

0 comments

A group of three young computer programmers working on laptops.

Protect Your Kids

Porn and Artificial Intelligence

When Chat GPT launched in November 2022, artificial intelligence took the world…

When Chat GPT launched in November 2022, artificial intelligence took the world by storm. And with good reason—the wide array of AI tools now available to the public offer truly breathtaking capabilities. At Covenant Eyes,…

4 minute read

0 comments

Parents with their teenage son.

Protect Your Kids

Why Parents Must Talk About Sex

When my son was sixteen, he attended a youth group meeting during…

When my son was sixteen, he attended a youth group meeting during which the male leader spoke with the guys about pornography and enumerated the ramifications porn could have on marriages and families. He learned…

5 minute read

0 comments