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Can a petitioner be kicked out of a public library?

(KVLY)
Published: Aug. 17, 2016 at 4:51 PM CDT
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Can a public library kick out people who are asking other library goers to sign a petition? That question is being asked after a group of people in Grand Forks, led by C.T. Marhula, said they were kicked out of the Grand Forks Public Library on Tuesday.

Since it was announced that two locations (Midtown and Downtown) were selected for a new library in Grand Forks, many people have expressed their disapproval.

"Many, many people want to keep the new library at its current location," Marhula said. "We've collected a lot of signatures."

Marhula said he went through the proper channels to get his group into the library to circulate the petition.

"This is not North Dakota nice. This is not constitutational," Marhula said. "The constitution guarantees the right to petition."

However, David Thompson, an attorney in Grand Forks, said it's not as simple as that.

"The 1st Amendment of The Constitution protects free speech, but it's not an absolute right," Thompson said. "In other words, people have no right to yell fire in a crowded theater."

Thompson said several court cases ( Perry Educ. Ass'n v. Perry Local Educators' Ass'n, United States v. Kistner) allow the government to regulate speech in a reasonable time, place or manner.

"If they were approaching people as they were reading at tables, going to card catalogs or using computers...for people to do that in a library, which is a quiet place, probably one of the most quiet public places that there are, would be basis for a government or representative of a government to ask people to leave," Thompson said.

Library Director Wendy Wendt said it's their longstanding policy to prohibit soliciting in any way at the library. The library board said they are going to take a look at the policy, "clear up some of the language" and ensure "it's being enforced fairly."

Wendt said the policy will be reviewed over the next several weeks.