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It turns out smut and free speech are both protected by the First Amendment. A recent fight at a local library has kick-started a new debate on the rights and wrongs of viewing porn in public. Andrew Siff reports.
Ray Floyd is a frequent visitor to the New York Public Library and The Brooklyn Public Library as well.
On occasion, he has noticed an unexpected sight: the guy next to him using a library computer to access pornography.
"I've seen some people surfing adult stuff," said Floyd. "I feel embarrassed for them, it's kind of an open place, why would you do that there?"
Other computer room regulars report similar encounters. Yet rather than leave in disgust, they said they understand the library's mission not to censor material.
"Do I like the fact that people look at things I object to?" asked Rose Thompson, on her way home from the Brooklyn Heights branch. "No. But I think they have that right."
Bill Donahue from The Catholic League, a frequent critic of adult-themed material on the Internet, poses a different question.
"What kind of debased appetite are we feeding?" he asked.
A spokesman for the Brooklyn Public Library said there had been a lot more attention swirling around the issue ever since two men scuffled over computer access at a neighborhood branch.
Investigators said one man's insistence on using his terminal time to surf hard-core material sparked the fight.
The library spokesman explained it complies with patrons' First Amendment rights and thus gives computer access, but there are policies in place to ensure access is not abused.
"We comply with CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act) and our policy forbids users to access materials that are legally defined as obscene, as child pornography, or, in the case of persons under 17, as harmful to minors," the spokesman said. "The library is committed to creating a positive experience for everyone, and we expect those who use the library to do so with respect to our policies and to others.”