Once again grandstanding to the far-right zealots of the local Republican Party, Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) was at it again this week, indignantly demanding that the county libraries play the role of mommy and daddy for parents too distracted to pay attention to their own children, and restrict access of minors to R-rated DVDs or video games.
Buona superciliously told the head of the Library Board, “Your logic fails me” when he tried to point out that it is up to parents to monitor their own children’s viewing habits.
Then displaying his complete ignorance of the law and the facts (let alone logic), Buona incorrectly asserted that movie theater operators and video store owners could “be cited for allowing minors to have access to the same content,” Leesburg Today reported.
Actually, they can’t. The rating system is a purely voluntary one, with no force of law. But it is no coincidence that Buona is playing this card: it is part of a concerted campaign by conservatives around the country hoping to stir up a non-existent controversy. As the American Library Association notes in a recent report entitled, “Movie ratings are private, not public policy”:
Advocates claiming to advance ‘family values’ and ‘community standards’ have urged several local library boards to adopt policies restricting minor patrons’ access to DVDs and videos rated R by the Motion Pictures Association of America. Adoption of the MPAA ratings system as a means of restricting minors’ access to certain films or videos raises significant legal concerns for public libraries. No law requires filmmaker to submit a film for a rating, and no law requires a theater or video dealer to follow the MPAA ratings guidelines when selling movie tickets or DVDs. Those who participate in the MPAA ratings system are doing so voluntarily.
Public libraries, as government agencies, are bound by the requirements of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In Board of Education of Island Trees v. Pico, the Supreme Court affirmed that the First Amendment protects the library user’s right to receive information in the public library.
As the ALA notes, any attempt by libraries to restrict access to library materials, even to minors, creates a presumption on its face of a violation of constitutionally protected rights of free speech. Trying to impose the MPAA restrictions is unquestionably unconstitutional, according to the ALA.
It is also a violation of one of the fundamental canons of ethics for libraries: as the ALA declares in its longstanding position statement on ethics: “Parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources.”
As we all fondly recall, right-wing religious wacko politician Dick Black got his start in Loudoun politics by trying to impose censorship on library internet access. The result was the county being sued, losing, and costing the taxpayers $100,000 in legal fees defending a policy that any first-year law student could have told him was going to be laughed out of court.
Here we go again!