1. Archive

Use caution in limiting Internet access at libraries

Published Oct. 1, 2005

Re: Libraries being used for X-rated browsing, March 12.

As the executive director of Electronic Frontiers Florida, a public interest, civil liberties organization based in Tampa, I am concerned by the statement that county library officials are considering the purchase of software that would block certain Web sites (censorware) or securing the services of a company that chooses what content library patrons are allowed to view.

The public library is a branch of the government, and as such is subject to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. While libraries can decide what books they purchase, or what periodicals to which they subscribe, the First Amendment prevents the government from removing materials from library shelves based on official disapproval of content.

As the library has subscribed to the Internet, it cannot censor it's content. The library can, on the other hand, have patrons who use the Internet read and sign a statement that they will not use it to intentionally view material that falls under certain guidelines which the library, or the American Library Association (ALA), would have to develop. Our librarians, and the ALA in particular, are great supporters of free speech in general, and I have faith that guidelines created by such organizations would be acceptable.

As a father I am equally concerned with the idea of anyone else determining what my daughter can or can not view. She should be able to look up information on AIDS prevention, breast cancer, the National Organization for Women, sex education, sites that teach about the Holocaust, political sites or activism sites such as Electronic Frontiers Florida's and any other topics that many of the "censorware" packages and services block. It is not the government's privilege or right to remove access to this information.

As for the statements in your article about the man who "lured three young boys to the screen . . ." and "The librarians at the Peninsular branch had little recourse but to watch helplessly as the man and boys gazed at the nude depictions." This language reeks of a tabloid journalism approach to a serious subject, our First Amendment Rights. The librarians were not tied to a railroad track by a dastardly villain; they could easily and rightly have told the boys to go away and approached the man with a request that he refrain from viewing such material. It is already illegal to distribute such material to children, and the librarians may have been in violation of a law by not telling them to leave or calling the police.

In general, this man's behaviour was irresponsible and without concern for others or the law, and I am not in any way defending his actions. But the library authorities were aware that material such as that in question is on the Internet when they decided to subscribe to it; they obviously considered that the benefits of such a vast amount of information far outweighs the drawbacks of the few senseless individuals who would ruin it for the rest of us and our children.

Scott Brower, executive director, Electronic Frontiers

Florida, Tampa

No pornography in libraries

I am appalled at the ACLU threat to sue the Orange County Public Library over its efforts to restrict Internet pornography from its computer terminals ("Around the state," March 11). While I wish this plague that victimizes women and children were non-existent, America is the largest producer of obscenity. Unfortunately, adults are not the only consumers of it. While "freedom of speech" may allow pornography to be produced, it does not demand that our tax dollars be used to provide obscenity for even adults who desire it. Our local libraries do not carry Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler and X-rated videos for their patrons. Just because obscenity is available in other media doesn't mean the library should provide.

If ACLU officials want to provide the dollars to make obscenity available to all adults who want it, why don't they use their money to buy out the adult bookstores in Orlando and turn them into lending libraries for adults? While the ACLU officials are at it, they can install a few computers in the adult bookstores. Keep pornography out of the library!

Maureen Pagan, St. Petersburg

The truth in the McPherson case

Re: Five doctors agree with examiner in Scientology death, March 9.

A great deal of false information has been circulated by the media concerning the Lisa McPherson case, the most recent of which appeared in the Times with quotes from medical experts purportedly in support of the allegations made by the Pinellas/Pasco medical examiner, Dr. Joan Wood. But as with much else in this case, the truth was not made known, and a false picture was painted to fool the readers of the Times.

Since this tragedy first unfolded, we have been on a mission to find the truth and make it known. We don't know all the answers, but we do know the speculation and innuendo that are not true.

We do not know why Lisa McPherson died other than the fact she suffered a pulmonary embolism. Determining what happened is the job of the medical examiner. Yet the autopsy was completed and the body released for cremation 14 months ago _ the answers should have been forthcoming long before now.

Dr. Wood resorted to tabloid TV shows to level unsupported accusations about what happened. Yet Dr. Wood did not perform the autopsy herself; she merely filled out the report. That was last year. Now she has claimed other "facts" to exist which were not only untrue, they were not in her own report.

Yet when we asked to see her records, our request was denied. Wanting the truth, we went to court to open her files.

Dr. Wood resisted. But much more surprisingly, she retained lawyers George Rahdert and Pat Anderson to represent her in her effort to keep her files from public view. Rahdert and Anderson are the attorneys who have made a name for themselves representing the Times in its numerous efforts to open public files. When did these lawyers' First Amendment-free speech-public access sensibilities turn 180 degrees? And why is the Times supporting this effort to withhold the facts while running stories that contain lies in their place?

Now the Times has resorted to an overt effort not only to defend Dr. Wood's unsupported statements, it has actively manufactured allegations to prolong the investigation and promote the persecution of innocent Scientologists. The Times contacted five medical experts and used quotes from them apparently to "support" Dr. Wood's conclusions. But the experts were provided with incomplete information and hypotheticals _ not the facts. And their responses were twisted into a story that contained a completely false premise. Even worse, the story claimed that "the Scientologists" had said certain things that had never been said and then attempted to debunk these statements _ that the church had never said _ to say that the church was wrong.

We contacted several of those same experts and others at random from around the country. And here is the real story.

The experts stressed that it is unreliable to draw any conclusions without having all the records available.

All of the medical experts said that there was no basis for Dr. Wood's allegation that Lisa McPherson was ever in a coma. The experts concluded that there was nothing anatomically which allows for that conclusion and no basis for reaching such a conclusion from the autopsy.

All said there was no basis for alleging that Lisa McPherson was without food and liquid for 17, 10 or even five days, and that you "couldn't do that" from the information contained in the autopsy.

They also said that some of the reported test results appeared unreliable and would require further tests and confirmation before they could be relied upon.

In fact, when told of the allegations of Dr. Wood based on the records she has released, one characterized them as "surmises" and not fact.

These pathologists do not support the allegations of Dr. Wood. Like the circumstances of this woman's death, medical experts, too, have been exploited by the Times.

Those who didn't care for Lisa when she was alive continue to demonstrate the same callousness even after her death. Her name is being dragged through the mud because some in the medical examiner's office, the Clearwater Police Department and media want to use her tragic death as a vehicle to forward an agenda of hate.

The investigation was reportedly closed except for the final report from the medical examiner's office last May. Now, after 14 months, it is time to bring to justice those officials and reporters in collusion to waste huge amounts of taxpayer dollars to destroy a group that is bringing law and order and clean-living family values to Clearwater, America and the world.

Elliot Abelson, general counsel, Church of Scientology

International, Tampa

There's more to Xena's appeal

Re: Xena, one tough princess, March 13.

My name is Elizabeth . . . and I am a Xenite. (For those of you who aren't in the know, a Xenite is a fan of theTV show Xena: Warrior Princess.)

I believe that Susan Estrich's portrait of Xena is much too simplistic. There is much more to the Warrior Princess than meets the eye. If Estrich would watch the show a little bit more closely, she would see that. Xena is a warrior who is capable of both diplomacy and brutality.

In one episode, she steps aside to let a young king David fulfill his destiny and defeat the giant Goliath; she reasoned that the Israelites needed a champion who could stay with them over the long haul. Slowly, painfully, but surely, the Warrior Princess is learning the importance of human relations management.

The appeal Xena holds for me is her humanity _ she is a flawed human being who is trying to improve herself . . . just like me. She is someone who has to live with the sins of her past. In short, Xena is someone a great many people can relate to; who among us hasn't made (sometimes serious) mistakes in our lives?

To dismiss Xena as simply a blood-lusting brute is to do a great injustice to one of the most beautifully drawn characters on television today.

Elizabeth Hoff, St. Petersburg

Try kicking the meat habit

Since 1985, March 20 _ the first day of spring _ has been observed as the Great American Meatout. This year, volunteers in over 1,000 communities will ask others to take the Meatout Pledge: "to kick the meat habit, at least for a day, and explore a more wholesome, less violent diet."

Vegetarianism is the wave of the future. Most people already are aware that meat is loaded with cholesterol and lacking in fiber. They're beginning to realize that a diet free of animal products can actually reverse heart disease and may help prevent cancer, while providing the proper nutrients for a healthy lifestyle.

The number of vegetarians in the United States is about 13-million and growing, according to recent surveys. This trend will spare millions of Americans from chronic diseases linked to the consumption of meat and animal fat. It will also lessen the environmental destruction associated with animal agriculture, which includes deforestation, erosion and the pollution of waterways. Billions of animals will be spared confinement, mutilation, manhandling and slaughter.

So, this spring _ the season of rebirth and renewal _ kick the meat habit!

Jan Craig-Olinger, Tampa Bay Vegetarians, St. Petersburg

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