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FIRE warns the office of the Missouri Secretary of State against childproofing literature and speech in Missouri libraries

Kansas City Public Library in Missouri

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Last week, FIRE submitted a comment to the office of the Missouri Secretary of State in response to a proposed rule that, if enacted, would restrict what books Missourians can access and what events they may host. In November, we wrote about the free speech implications of the proposed rule. 

Proposed Rule 15 CSR 30-200.015 would restrict certain libraries, including public libraries, from using state funds to “purchase or acquire materials in any form that appeal to the prurient interest of any minor.” The rule would also prohibit librarians from “knowingly grant[ing] access to any minor any material in any form not approved by the minor’s parent or guardian.” 

Kansas City Public Library in Missouri

Show-Me state censorship: Proposed new rule threatens Missouri’s public libraries

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A proposed rule in Missouri would restrict public libraries from using state funds to purchase books that discuss sex and would allow "any person" to challenge those materials.

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The proposed rule runs counter to what courts have said about childproofing libraries, literature, and speech. As we wrote in our comment: 

Courts have . . . rejected governmental attempts to prevent adults from accessing information in public libraries on the basis that the information is unsuitable for children. Nor does the government have a legitimate interest in “restricting access to non-obscene, fully protected library books solely on the basis of the majority’s disagreement with their perceived message.” A public library at the mercy of state censorship loses its power as “the quintessential locus of the receipt of information.”

Not only does the proposed rule regulate what books librarians may distribute, it also regulates events held at libraries. The proposed rule, for example, states: “No event or presentation shall be held at the library without an age-appropriate designation affixed to any publication, website, or advertisement for such event or presentation.” As we wrote in our comment: 

The First Amendment prohibits laws that compel speech. Generally, laws that compel speech are subject to strict scrutiny because they “plainly alter [] the content of . . . speech.” Event organizers, for instance, may disagree with the government’s rating, but would ‌be required to place that rating on event flyers.

FIRE hopes the Missouri Secretary of State will heed our advice and amend the proposed rule so as to not infringe on Missourians’ First Amendment rights. 

FIRE’s full analysis of the proposed rule can be read in its entirety here.

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