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Standing Up for Intellectual Freedom

Last October, I flew from New York City halfway across the country to testify as an expert witness in an ACLU suit against a school district that was using an Internet filter that actively discriminated against LGBT sites.  I am happy to say that in February, the judge granted a preliminary injunction against the school district, a great victory for the ACLU and for intellectual freedom.

Preparing the expert witness document and testifying in court were professional experiences that were both intimidating and empowering.  I believe strongly in the First Amendment rights of our young people to read and say what they wish.  It actually pains me to think about any young men or women who are cut off from finding information about issues that they are trying to figure out about themselves and their own lives.  How could any educator think it is right to tell a young man that he has to ask permission to see a site that offers positive and valuable information on LGBT issues?

I must admit, though, that testifying before a judge, and being confronted by counsel for the defense, made me nervous, not because I didn’t know what to say, but because I cared so much and I was afraid that I would inadvertently say something in the wrong way.

All of us should have a chance to stand up for what we believe.  It doesn’t have to be in court – it can be simply resisting the urge to self-censor when we know that a book may be controversial.  It can be respecting our patron’s opinions even when we disagree with them personally.  It can be buying and rebuying books that we know will be stolen because our students are embarrassed to check them out, but they want the information.  It can be making sure that all sides of an issue are given fair treatment in our collections.

Each of us stands up for the rights of our patrons every day.  I had the chance to speak out publicly, and that was empowering, but we should all be proud of our quiet, daily testimonials to intellectual freedom.