On July 3, 2001, District Judge James K. Singleton ordered Anchorage, Alaska, to reinstall a gay pride exhibit at Z.J. Loussac Library after ruling that the city’s library policy was too vague.
The lawsuit arose after the city removed a gay pride display from Loussac Library on June 5, 2001. The Alaska Civil Liberties Union sued, saying the city violated constitutional free speech protections and breached its contract with the exhibit sponsors. The exhibit was put up at the University of Alaska Anchorage after it was removed from Loussac Library.
According to the Anchorage Daily News District Judge James K. Singleton ruled that while the city has the right to limit certain forms of speech at the library, its guidelines were not explicit enough to prevent administrators’ prejudices from potentially playing a role in a decision.
Arguments focused partly on whether the library was a public forum and therefore subject to free speech protections. The city argued that, although the library was made available for exhibitions (and was thus a designated public forum), exhibitions policy prohibited displays that were personal, promotional or could cause a substantial disturbance. The city claimed that the gay pride exhibit was promotional because it promoted the group’s cause.
Judge Singleton said that it might be possible to define the terms of a library policy in a way that would draw a distinction between promotion and education, but that "that would be something that would be very hard to do and you could look silly."
Whereas commercial promotion would be a clear case, when we are talking about ideas the line distinguishing expression from promotion is extremely vague, if not impossible to draw. By opening its exhibition space to a variety of groups, the only thing the Loussac library was promoting was the value of a diversity of ideas as well as of the mutual understanding between members of the community. No city should find that kind of promotion objectionable.
For the AkCLU Press Release, click here.