ACLU sues library for filtering “occult” Web sites


Netsweeper, used in schools and libraries, filters out Web content related to Wicca or Native American faiths.

Anaka Hunter, a resident of Salem, Missouri, went to her local public library and attempted to do some Internet research about Native American spiritualities. She was astounded when she found that Web sites with that kind of content were blocked by the Internet-filtering software used by the library, Netsweeper.

When Hunter complained to the head librarian, she was told that the library had no control over what ideas were blocked by Netsweeper. She complained to the library’s board of directors, but they blew her off. So she took it to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is now suing the city of Salem, the city’s library system, and the library board.

All three are being charged with “unconstitutionally blocking access to websites discussing minority religions by improperly classifying them as ‘occult’ or ‘criminal,'” according to the ACLU.

As I’ve mentioned before, net-filtering software is notorious for trying to make minority faiths of all kinds invisible. Earlier this year, Gainesville students complained when they discovered they couldn’t look up information on Falun Dafa/Falun Gong. I figured it wouldn’t be long before the ACLU got involved.

Interestingly, Jason Pitzl-Waters at The Wild Hunt points out that ‘net-filtering software can trace its origins to the Christian market. This selfsame software was then sold to schools, libraries, and other publicly funded agencies — where such discrimination is much more of a sticky wicket.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. In the meantime, readers, how would you feel if your religious beliefs were blacked out by Internet-filtering software used in schools, libraries, etc.? Are there any such religions you think should be made invisible to the kids and adults using public terminals?

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12 responses to “ACLU sues library for filtering “occult” Web sites

  1. Well, Islam of course, because they’re all terrorists. And the Christians, well they killed a bunch of people in the Crusades. So they’re obviously undesirable. And the Jews killed Jesus! Allowing Buddhism into public schools will only contribute to more childhood obesity. Hmm, so what’s left? Hinduism? Too far away. Zoroastrianism? Too hard to spell. Plus it sounds like a cross between an 80s band and a terminal disease.

  2. Firstly I am Christian, secondly none of us practising a religion actually know we are right until we die so no, I do not want to see any religion blacked out as how do you choose which ones are “criminal”.

    • Kt Mehers, there are some good standards to determine which groups of any kind (religious, political, recreational) are “criminal”. it has to do with lawbreaking behaviour, advocation for the breaking of laws, violating pets, livestock, other animals, and human beings, or advocating it in a way (e.g. hate crimes) which incurs penalties from the authorities in the jurisdiction which is appropriate. btw, nobody finds out anything at death, since knowledge ends at that point and discovery is terminated.

  3. Are there any such religions you think should be made invisible to the kids and adults using public terminals?” I’m severely tempted to say “all of them.” The claim that “one religion is right and the others is wrong” (one of the single most consistent religious propositions), in view of the observation that most people appear to simply inherit their parent’s religion, suggests that talking to children likely does most children a disservice by introducing them to the wrong religion.

    So, I say, block it all, consider talking to children about religion a form of child abuse, as it sets them on the wrong religious path, likely for the rest of their lives.

    • Joe, what about teaching kids about ALL the religions, not as fact, but as in, “some people believe…” And/or compare them mythologically, a la Joseph Campbell…

      • Beth, it’s a tempting idea, but I have two concerns about it.

        First, the pragmatic. I have never experienced religious education which was truly equitable across a range of religions, I’m of the opinion that it’s so difficult to do that it’ll effectively never happen, and the resulting situation will provide that dangerous bias that will teach kids the wrong religion.

        Returning, however, to the more logic-and-statistics form of the argument, there’s a bigger issue. Which of the many thousands of religions do you teach, and how much time do you allocate to each? What does “equitable” really mean in this context? It’s clear both from my observation about inheriting religion and by the historical variation in religions that we cannot rely on the popularity of a religion to assess its likelihood of being correct, our “a priori” assumption in a Bayesian statistical sense must be that all, even the ones with one follower, are equally likely (perhaps even those with no followers!). Evenly communicating what has to be at least thousands of religious beliefs is surely beyond plausibility.

        As a result, the only safe answer is none. 😉

      • Aha. Fair enough. I wonder whether there’s a way to teach a meta-level course about religion and be fair and representative without covering every single one? Otherwise you kind of get into the same debate about religious education that you do about sex education: either kids learn it in school, and hopefully it’s not biased, or they learn it at home, where it’s very likely going to be biased and full of misinformation, unless the parent in question is exceedingly objective and well educated.

      • (By the way, the argument I make in the first part I often refer to as the “Industrial Disease” argument, after the Dire Straits song, which contains the lyric “Two men say they’re Jesus, one of ’em must be wrong.”)

  4. Given that our constitution protects freedom of both religion and speech, the answer is a fairly self evident no, of course they shouldn’t block information. Particularly in a public library funded by government money.

  5. I find this very interesting because of an article I just read a week or so ago where a woman in a library noticed that a man was viewing porn online and got angry. The library there said SORRY we do not filter ANYTHING. I think it’s outrageous that any PUBLIC library would have any kind of filtering tool for any, except MAYBE porn (maybe) and those porn filters don’t work anyway !!!

    Trying to look up things like FULAN GONG is very important for young people, because that group is highly persecuted in china, murdered, tortured & it’s a learning tool for teaching about freedom & rights. Also, if you raise your children in an intelligent manner you should not have to worry they’ll ‘go nuts’ if they read something. If someone’s kid is so drawn towards everything you are not, then maybe that parent needs to check themselves and their attitude.

    The Library woman in the article i read was such a busybody she approached the man and asked him to either stop or to move to a less open area of the library and in the meantime her daughter (maybe 10 I can’t remember) walked up behind her and ‘saw’ it. So now she’s all MY DAUGHTER SAW THIS and she’s scared and she cried and doesn’t understand….so mom is now making a big deal out of this.

    If she had really been worried more about her daughter and less about her self righteousness she would have stayed with her daughter and made sure her eyes were ‘elsewhere’ That being said, if she would take a few minutes to explain a couple of things to her kid (maybe earlier than she wanted to in life, but shit happens) then she wouldn’t be scared. And making an incredible huge deal about something only makes it worse for the kids.

    I talked to my son in bits and pieces as he was growing up and asked questions. You don’t have to give them the complete breakdown, just what they need to know or can handle. My son also knew I would never act weird or angry. He grew into a fine wonderful young man. We played all the most violent video games together, listened to norwegian death metal, and went to a GWAR Lamb of God concert together. We watched every George Romero zombie movie together & big horror movie fans, family guy & adult swim, anime, read violent karate manga. At the age of 15 he was a devout Christian with a strong sense of ethics and a moral code, he had never smoked, drank alcohol, taken drugs & if he was out & the people he was riding with started to drink or anything – he would call us to come get him. He would not make a decision to ride with someone who may drink or drive. He protected younger kids & girls from bullies at school or at the skate park. All in all I was so proud of him for being such a beautiful wonderful kind intelligent loving sensitive person, who also had a wicked dark sense of humor just like me. I lost my baby at age 15, and his school newspaper interviewed some of the other kids, in which such things about him were said ‘Keith was a very holy person and very close to god’ ‘keith had a great sense of humor and was friendly to everyone, keith was never unkind to anyone else’ and just how funny he was and how much everyone loved him. Even the teachers said Keith could break the tension in the classroom when something happened or even would tell other kids in class that they were disrupting.

    The reason I got off track and mentioned these things is because I know first hand that all that video game, metal music, violent movies or TV, or ‘obscene not for kids’ stuff like Family Guy has absolutely NOT ONE SINGLE THING TO DO WITH HOW YOUR KIDS TURN OUT !! YOU DO, we do, I do.

    The ONLY thing I could ever possibly connect to rampant violence is the shit hip hop culture / because when I’m reading about even white teenagers who commit heinous crimes like beating deaths, there will always be something like ‘he and his friends had a video on Youtube doing some gangsta rap’ or some bull like that. But then again maybe it’s not the music and culture, maybe it’s just that the people attracted to it are already shit, I don’t know. Its the only thing I ever forbade my son from listening to when he was around me. ONLY just not in my car, or when i could hear it- I told him he could listen otherwise if he wanted to. But we had a big talk about the words to the songs, how bad songs like ‘she’s a ho’ make me feel, denigration of women, glorification of drugs and violence, and within I’d say 10 days it was never an issue again.

  6. filtration of library internet data should approximate the standard allowed on book shelves. if pornography is excluded, filter it from computers. if books on religion or particular religions are excluded, filter them from computers. no books on occultism? filter them from computers. why treat computers differently than bookshelves? I used to live in Silicon Valley. many many Section 133 (occult) books were stolen from shelves and never returned or re-purchased for circulation. the desire was there, so allow it via computer, since internet is free data. if something you like is excluded from computers, complain. maybe it’s also being prohibited on bookshelves.

    myopia and child abuse through restraint from learning is not uncommon. demand to be allowed to study the world. say: “InterLibraryLoan”. the ACLU is your friend. conservative community standards may hamstring you, short-term. but what data *should* be excluded from school and public media systems? why? who are they serving or protecting? these are tough questions that have to be negotiated regionally and mapped into law.

  7. Pingback: New Yorker cartoon: the pagan version of blackface | Backward Messages

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