The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee asked Mayor Tim Burchett on Friday to withdraw a policy he implemented earlier this week banning registered sex offenders from county libraries, reports Mike Donila
In a one-page letter, the ACLU said the mayor’s new rule is “overly broad and raises a host of constitutional issues.”
“As you know, access to information is a fundamental underpinning of the protection of the First Amendment’s guarantees of free speech,” wrote executive director Hedy Weinberg.
The U.S. Supreme Court and other lower courts have held that “some level of access to a library cannot be proscribed if there is no compelling state interest,” according to Weinberg.
“ACLU-TN asks that you rescind this and instead consider addressing your concerns in a less-restrictive manner that is mindful of the First Amendment rights of all Knox County residents,” the letter states.
A federal court in New Mexico last year struck down a similar ban in Albuquerque.
Eric Sirignano, administrative coordinator of ACLU-TN, said Weinberg would have no further comment beyond her letter.
Burchett on Monday announced that sex offenders are no longer welcome in Knox County libraries. He said they can use the system’s online services and have a proxy check out and return materials on their behalf. They face misdemeanor criminal trespass charges if they are caught in the buildings.
The policy is based on a new state law that gives public library directors the authority to “reasonably restrict the access of any person listed on the sexual offender registry.”
Weinberg said many libraries have materials that are not online and cannot be checked out, like reference books and new magazines. She also said most Tennessee libraries have procedures in place to protect children, which strikes a “balance between protection and access.”
Burchett said little when reached for comment Friday evening.
He said “it’s clear they’re angling towards a lawsuit,” and he said he’s prepared to turn any legal action over to Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret.
“Everything we’ve done has been with the law department’s approval and it’s within the parameters of the law that was passed (by the General Assembly) in Nashville,” he said.
Burchett referred further comment to Jarret.
The law director said, “Our policy follows the law and we will defend it.”