Discrimination against the pro-life viewpoint comes in many forms as anyone involved in the pro-life movement is well aware. Yet attempts to silence the pro-life message, if carefully confronted, can be overcome, as a Pro-Life advocate in Nantucket, Massachusetts recently discovered.
Joshua Mencer applied to use the great hall of his local library for a presentation on defending the pro-life position. The library is housed in the historic Atheneum, a site that has seen lectures by many activists over the years, including abolitionists and suffragists. But Mr. Mencer was told that his topic was “too controversial.” Attempts to clarify the rejection were unsuccessful . When Mr. Mencer finally succeeded in setting up a meeting with the administrator to talk about the application, she merely repeated that he would not be allowed, under any circumstances, to hold his event at the Atheneum.
Unbeknownst to the library staff, however, Mr. Mencer had contacted Life Legal Defense Foundation about his situation, and had collected a significant set of facts about the library itself. The library was part of Massachusetts public library system, was funded in part by state and local tax dollars, and allowed various non-profit and community organizations and individuals to utilize rooms with no apparent restrictions on the content of the presentations made within those rooms. In fact, the library had hosted presentations on a range of topics including the environment and women’s rights. For example, they had an appearance scheduled for Madeleine Kunin, and had also scheduled a discussion group on a book titled “Emma Goldman: Revolution As A Way of Life.” (Emma Goldman was a noted anarchist and birth control advocate in the early 20th century for whom at least one abortion clinic has been named.) In the face of this openness to politically charged topics, the library’s refusal to allow a pro-life presentation seemed hypocritical at best.
Life Legal’s research revealed that Massachusetts has a unique law that specifically requires libraries within the state public library system to adopt written policies in accordance with the standards adopted by the American Library Association. These standards specifically define the public library as a limited public forum. As such, although libraries can exclude entire topics, once they have allowed a topic of discussion, they cannot discriminate based on viewpoint. By designating Mr. Mencer’s topic “too controversial,” while allowing other perspectives, the library risked running afoul of state law, and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
At Mr. Mencer’s request, Life Legal attorneys sent a letter setting out the above facts to the library. After receiving this letter, the administrators did a complete about-face, and allowed Mr. Mencer to hold his event without restriction.
The lecture, which was held the day before Mother’s Day, May 12, 2012, was well received by the audience. “No one went away without learning something new or being encouraged to keep up the fight or start a new work,” says Joshua Mencer. “For myself it was great! . . . Women were encouraged, men were challenged, and the value of the unborn in the image of God was shown in science, philosophy and metaphysics. The library didn’t give me any more trouble.”
“Life Legal Defense Foundation exists to defend the rights of pro-life advocates such as Mr. Mencer,” states Dana Cody, LLDF’s President and Executive Director. “We are happy that this matter was resolved quickly and rejoice that the message of life has been heard in Nantucket!”