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The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Tuesday against a small Missouri town's public library, claiming it unconstitutionally blocks access to websites related to Wicca and other minority religions.
The suit said some religions were labeled "occult" or even "criminal."
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in St. Louis on behalf of Anaka Hunter, a resident of Salem, a largely Christian community of about 5,000 residents in the Missouri Ozarks. It claims that Hunter was trying to do research at the Salem Public Library but filtering software blocked access to many sites about religions such as Wicca, an earth-based religion, derived from pre-Christian religions and magical practices that promote a peaceful and balanced lifestyle. Hunter was also unable to access sites about Native American Religions.
Federal law requires public libraries to use filtering software that blocks access to sites with explicit, pornographic and adult content. The ACLU suit claims the Salem library went too far, though, in blocking information about religion.
Hunter said in a statement through the ACLU, "It's unbelievable that I should have to justify why I want to access completely harmless websites on the Internet simply because they discuss a minority viewpoint. It's wrong and demeaning to deny access to this kind of information."
The suit said the software classified sites related to Native American culture and Wiccan faith in the blocked category "criminal skills." But Wofford said the software was provided by the University of Missouri and the library had no control over how it labels content.
"The Salem library is a small, rural library," Wofford said. "We're unable to provide our own filtering system."