February 1, 2013 Cindy Czesak, Director Members, Board of Trustees Paterson Free Public Library 250 Broadway Paterson

, NJ 07501 Dear Ms. Czesak and Library Trustees, We are writing to express our concern over reports that the Paterson Free Public Library recently voted to ban the playing of certain video games on branch computers. We understand that this action was taken in response to a request from staff members to adopt a formal policy authorizing them to stop patrons from playing certain “direct-shooter” games. Video games are protected speech under the First Amendment and, as such, cannot be regulated or restricted by public officials in response to concerns about their message or 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 free speech 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 video games 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 equally constitutionally problematic. The library has not offered any sound justification for removing access to specific games. 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 independent mental intermediation, a proposition that is palpably false and that the library implicitly rejects by offering access to all sorts of internet sites and maintaining a varied collection of books, magazines, videos and other materials. It is no more acceptable for a library to ban access to certain kinds of video games than it would be to selectively remove other lawful materials. Library patrons, including young people, have a First Amendment right to make their own decisions about literature, art, informational materials, and entertainment without having those choices limited by the subjective views of library officials. Library officials attempt to justify their decision by claiming that they are acting in parens patriae. However,

librarians are not baby-sitters, and they have no way to know that their views correspond with those of parents or guardians. Moreover, the policy apparently applies to patrons of all ages, including adults and minors who are accompanied by an adult. As public officials, library administrators are barred from removing materials merely because they dislike them or find them offensive. In a landmark 1943 Supreme Court case, Justice Jackson stated, "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion." Video games, like other forms of media and entertainment, do not appeal to every individual. What some may feel is perfectly fine may not be right for all. Those who do not wish to play video games do not have to, just as those who do not wish to read a particular book or magazine do not have to. The role of libraries is not to police the use of a perfectly legal form of casual entertainment, whether the user is a teen or any other patron. We look forward to hearing from you. Please let us know if we can be of further assistance. Sincerely,

Joan E. Bertin Executive Director National Coalition Against Censorship

Judith Platt Director, Free Expression Advocacy Association of American Publishers

Chris Finan President American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression

Kevin S. Bankston Senior Counsel and Free Expression Director Center for Democracy & Technology

Charles Brownstein Executive Director Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

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