Ga. library system bans teen for pestering patrons

Thursday, September 23, 2010

COLUMBUS, Ga. — A 16-year-old who officials said was bothering patrons by evangelizing outside a library after he was warned to stop has been banned from the Chattahoochee Valley Regional Library System for six months.

Kirsten Edwards, acting manager of the North Columbus Public Library, said in a letter that Caleb Hanson repeatedly asked patrons about their religious faith and offered biblical advice.

Hanson said he was warned to stop speaking to patrons inside the library. Then library employees “took me into an office and told me not to do it,” he said.

He said he then began talking to people outside the library, and patrons continued to complain.

Claudya Muller, director of the library system, said the ban had nothing to do with what the teen was saying. “As people came in, he would approach them. He prevented people from simply using the library.”

The letter from Edwards states Hanson's library card has been blocked, and that if he returns before Feb. 28, he will be criminally trespassing.

Caleb's parents, Tim and Elizabeth Hanson, are ministers outside the U.S. They are living with Elizabeth's parents, Raymond and Janet Jacobs, who are retired missionaries.

Elizabeth Hanson says she has contacted the American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian advocacy center in Washington, D.C., but has not received a response.

The teen is home-schooled and attends First Assembly of God in Phenix City, Ala. He said he was not offended by the ban. “We're still praying about what to do,” he said.

Michael Broyde, professor of law and academic director of the Law and Religion Program at Emory University in Atlanta, told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer that the library's decision seemed appropriate.

“My intuition is that this is reasonable. It falls under the time, place and manner restriction,” he told the newspaper.

Time, place and manner considerations could act as restrictions on what would ordinarily be First Amendment-protected expression. Such restrictions do not target speech based on content, and in order to stand up in court, they must be applied in a content-neutral manner. For example, people have the right to march in protest, but not with noisy bullhorns at 4 a.m. in a residential neighborhood.

Broyde told the newspaper: “In a place like a library, where silence is generally accepted, they can restrict unneeded pestering.”

In addition to the North Columbus branch, the system includes the Columbus, South Columbus, Mildred L. Terry, Cusseta-Chattahoochee, Lumpkin, Marion County and the Parks Memorial Public Library in Richland. The ban was effective Aug. 28.

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