Earlier this week, children’s book publisher Brave Books reached out to The Seattle Public Library requesting to rent a room at the Central Library to hold an event with Kirk Cameron. They selected Meeting Room 1 on Level 4 for their event, which is scheduled for Saturday, May 27, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Brave Books has held similar events with Cameron at other libraries around the country, and some of these events have generated public confusion about the difference between library-sponsored programs and library meeting room bookings made by groups or individuals.
There is an important difference:
Library-sponsored programs are created and developed by Library staff, often in collaboration or co-design with community or other partner agencies, and they are intended to reflect community interest, meet community needs, and align with Library values.
Meeting rooms, however, are provided as a public service that is open and available to everyone equally. We do not choose who gets to use our meeting rooms or what they are allowed to say or believe. That would be government censorship and a violation of the First Amendment.
The Library is committed to intellectual freedom, which we believe is essential to a healthy democracy, even when viewpoints expressed do not align with Library values. We have heard from some in the community asking why the Library is allowing this booking, citing the author’s views on abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, and more. Censoring these viewpoints is counter to Library policy and the associated laws that ensure intellectual freedom for all people.
The Library is not in the role of determining what viewpoints are or are not allowed to be believed and expressed by members of the public. We provide collections to explore and public spaces to use that allow members of the public to examine their own beliefs and come to their own conclusions. Just this week, we launched Books Unbanned to ensure teens and young adults across the country have access to materials that are banned elsewhere in communities where governments are overstepping their bounds and keeping their communities from accessing their right to read.
The Seattle Public Library cannot hold this belief only when it is politically convenient – intellectual freedom must be made available to all, consistently, in a free and democratic society.
Because these spaces are made available to the public for private use, the Library does not endorse or sponsor private events or the viewpoints expressed at the events. We will, however, coordinate with event organizers and other public agencies as needed to ensure the event is managed well. To learn more about this event, please visit the Brave Books website.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What Library resources will be used for this event?
When an independent group rents a Central Library meeting room for a private event, they sign a contract and pay a facilities usage fee. The same contract is used for every group that rents a Central Library meeting room, although nonprofit groups, government agencies and City of Seattle departments are allowed to rent meeting rooms for non-commercial use at a discounted rate.
The contract mandates that the group renting a meeting room will abide by the Library’s Rules of Conduct. It also mandates that all security associated with the event will be provided by the Library. Private security is not allowed in Library facilities.
The facilities usage fee includes a rental charge and other costs associated with additional Library security, A/V technology and assistance, and/or custodial services. When the Seattle Police Department is present for an event, the costs are typically covered by their budget.
Is hate speech allowed in the Library?
Hate speech has no legal definition under U.S. law, but is commonly understood as speech intended to disparage, offend, humiliate or incite hatred against a group based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, religion, age, disability or other shared characteristic.
Under existing First Amendment law, the government can only prohibit speech that either directly incites imminent criminal activity or comprises specific threats of violence targeting persons or groups. Unless hateful speech does one of these things, that speech is protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that hateful speech is protected under the First Amendment, most recently in Snyder v. Phelps (2011) and Matal v. Tam (2017).
From the latter decision:
Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.”
A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.
The Seattle Public Library is a City of Seattle department and part of local government. Local, state and federal law, as well as our commitment to intellectual freedom, prohibits us from censoring constitutionally protected speech, even when that speech is hateful and does not align with our values.