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Jewish World Review Jan. 11, 2000 /4 Shevat, 5760

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What is going on in our public libraries? -- MY CRUSADE against the American Library Association's policy of free Internet access on public library computers "regardless of age" (its Library Bill of Rights language) is well known. I've been railing all this year against the ALA's insistence on protecting the "right" of children to access pornography and anything else they might want to see on computers in their local libraries. And I have been so heartened by the response of my listeners and readers to this challenge to their families and their communities.

All over America, moms, dads, teachers, library board members, city councilpersons and other Dr. Laura Warriors have researched the policies and practices of their local libraries with respect to Internet access and taken action to protect their children from random exposure to the incredible www.filth that is so pervasive in cyberspace.

It has also become an issue among many in the U.S. Congress, who are concerned with the perversion of "rights" to cover endangering children in publicly funded institutions. Sen. Rick Santorum has introduced Senate Bill 1545, the Neighborhood Children's Internet Protection Act, which would require local libraries that receive federal funding to have an Internet Use Policy and, most important, to involve the community in developing such a policy through a public notice process and open forums.

Now comes the art exhibit at the Pacific Beach branch of the San Diego Public Library. The exhibit is part of a library program to display art from local area artists. The particular paintings in question came to public attention when a children's music recital was scheduled in the room where they were hanging. The paintings feature an old man leering at provocatively clothed and naked women, some of whom appear to be very young. There is also a painting of man being savagely beaten by a uniformed attacker.

Lety Salom, a woman whose child was to perform in the recital, saw the paintings and asked the library to remove some of the most offensive ones before the recital took place. The library director, Anna Tatar, refused. Salom said, "Perhaps the paintings would be fine in a gallery or maybe in a private home, but the public library is not the place for them."

I was curious about the paintings, so I downloaded copies to see for myself. One is called "The Pleasures of Flesh" and shows a bunch of old guys at a table, one of whom is touching the naked thigh of a woman standing on the tabletop, clothed in stockings and a garter belt. Another is of an old man holding the hand of a very young girl in the same scanty garb. Both are staring at a seated nude woman, with a boy at her breast. It is called "Musings on the Nature of Desire."

I am frankly amazed at the restrained and polite tone of the protest letters to the library, many copies of which I received. To expose children to these kinds of images is so offensive that were I a patron of this library, I would be incensed. Needless to say, the library insisted that the painting stay, so the children's recital was moved. And then, of course, the San Diego Union Tribune weighed in with an editorial full of the by-now-predictable defense of "freedom of expression."

But what is at stake here has nothing to do with "freedom of expression." No one said that the artist didn't have the right to paint whatever he wanted, nor that the library didn't have the right to hang the paintings. The problem arose when the room where the paintings hung was scheduled for a children's recital.

The San Diego Union Tribune editorial acknowledges that "some of the paintings suggest provocative, mysterious stories of lecherous old men and young nude women." Now, who in his or her right mind thinks that is an appropriate subject matter for children to view? Who believes that to protect them from seeing it constitutes censorship and a threat to their constitutional rights?

In a written response to the editorial, Don Salom, an attorney, notes that the American Library Association supports free choice in the selection of reading materials. "This is indeed a noble mission," writes Mr. Salom, "but it lacks a meaningful relevance in this matter. Adult 'reading' material is contained within the covers of a book. Such material is not involuntarily projected at children, as is the case with these paintings."

As is also the case with pornography on library computer screens.

I know that I sound like a character on the "X-Files" when I say this sure looks like a pattern to me. It suggests the ALA's intent to sexualize our children at ever-younger ages and degrade their moral sensibilities under the protective covering of freedom and rights.

Thank G-d people like the Saloms in San Diego, the founders and members of Family Friendly Libraries, and legislators like Rick Santorum are determined to fight and to expose the absurdity of these bogus and dangerous policies wrapped in the American flag.

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© 2000, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. This feature may not be reproduced or distributed electronically, in print or otherwise without the written permission of Universal New Media and Universal Press Syndicate.