Are Occupy flyers banned at the library? Is there just a simple misunderstanding about bulletin board policy at the Eugene Public Library? According to a emailed letter from activist Alley Valkyrie to Lavena Nohrenberg customer experience manager at the library, there might be an issue with free speech and the library’s bulletin board.
The letter is below:
Last Sunday, a local activist named Jana Thrift who is involved with the Nuclear Justice events taking place this week tried to hang a flyer on the notice board inside the library towards the front near the elevators. A security guard approached her, a woman with long curly black hair, and told Jana that she could not hang the flyer and it is the library’s policy not to allow anything “Occupy-related” to be posted anywhere on library property. When Jana asked why Occupy flyers weren’t allowed, the security guard stated that they considered all Occupy flyers “graffiti” and then started to talk about the “sidewalk chalk graffiti” on city sidewalks, and that if anyone had a problem with the policy, to “take it up with the library staff”.
As everyone who in a position of authority on this matter is well aware, the Library is publicly funded. Once a publicly funded library opens a space for public messaging such as the notice board in question, that space becomes a constitutionally-protected public forum under federal law. The library is obviously aware of this to some extent, as the sign that is currently hanging on the board states the following: “Eugene Public Library is not responsible for the contents of this board, but will remove items that are duplicates or that do not constitute legally protected speech.”
The flyer in question undoubtedly constitutes legally protected speech, and the Library has no right to prohibit such a flyer. While certain regulations are allowed in public forums, those regulations need to be content-neutral, and a policy that prohibits flyers on the basis of content is impermissible and unconstitutional save for a “compelling interest” on the part of the City. If the library has such a policy, whether written or verbal, it is undoubtedly in violation of the First Amendment, and I speak for many in the local activist community when I say that this situation concerns us greatly.
It also needs to be pointed out for the record that the security guard’s reasoning for prohibiting Jana from posting the flyer is based on factual inconsistencies. First off, the event that Jana attempted to post a flyer about isn’t even an Occupy event, strictly speaking. It is an event that is co-coordinated by several non-profits in town, including CALC, Our Islands Conservation Center, the University of Oregon’s Survival Center, as well as Occupy Eugene.
Second, the vast majority of the “sidewalk chalk graffiti” throughout downtown Eugene is not done by nor has anything to do with Occupy Eugene. I take personal responsibility for most of the chalking downtown, and I don’t do it on behalf of Occupy Eugene or any other group. I have initiated multiple discussions with the Eugene Police Department around chalking on public sidewalks over the past two years, and overall the police agree with my view that expressive messages written with sidewalk chalk does not constitute “graffiti” and is a constitutionally-protected exercise. If the Library believes that my chalking is graffiti, by all means notify the police and I will discuss it with them once more. But there is no connection whatsoever between the flyers that Jana tried to post and the chalk that occasionally appears on the sidewalks outside the library, and for the security guard to use my chalking as a justification for Jana not being able to hang a flyer is simply absurd.
I am hoping that what happened last Sunday was a result of either poor communication and/or a misunderstanding between library staff and security, or an instance where the security guard simply abused her authority for questionable reasons. If there is a Eugene Public Library policy that does prohibit any flyers from Occupy, I would appreciate a copy of the policy in writing as well as an explanation from the City Attorney as to why the City believes that such a policy is legally justifiable.
I await your reply, and I am hoping that this situation can be easily resolved.