February 1, 2013Cindy Czesak, DirectorMembers, Board of TrusteesPaterson Free Public Library250 BroadwayPaterson, NJ 07501Dear Ms. Czesak and Library Trustees,We are writing to express our concern over reports that the Paterson Free PublicLibrary recently voted to ban the playing of certain video games on branchcomputers. We understand that this action was taken in response to a request fromstaff members to adopt a formal policy authorizing them to stop patrons from playing
Video games are protected speech under the First Amendment and, as such, cannot beregulated or restricted by public officials in response to concerns about their messageor content. In its landmark 2011 ruling,
Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Association,
the Supreme Court held that state regulation of violent video games is
unconstitutional and that video games “are as much entitled to the protection of freespeech as the best of literature,”
Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Ass’n
(2011).The Court struck down a California state law restricting the sale of certain videogames depicting violence to minors.
The Library’s action in banning the use of
certain games because some people object to their message or content is equallyconstitutionally problematic.The library has not offered any sound justification for removing access to specificgames. Instead, according to published reports, librarians are taking this action to
“prevent our kids from learning these behaviors.’’ This assumes that viewers will
simply imitate behaviors represented in fictional settings without any independentmental intermediation, a proposition that is palpably false and that the libraryimplicitly rejects by offering access to all sorts of internet sites and maintaining avaried collection of books, magazines, videos and other materials.It is no more acceptable for a library to ban access to certain kinds of video gamesthan it would be to selectively remove other lawful materials. Library patrons,including young people, have a First Amendment right to make their own decisionsabout literature, art, informational materials, and entertainment without having thosechoices limited by the subjective views of library officials. Library officials attemptto justify their decision by claiming that they are acting
in parens patriae.