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Judge rules Seymour Library's ban of patron for anti-Trump poem was unconstitutional

Alivia D.

A federal judge has ruled the Jackson County Public Library system violated a patron’s Constitutional rights when it banned him from the Seymour Public Library because of a political poem.

In November 2020, 68-year-old Jackson County resident Richard England stopped by the Seymour Public Library to return items and check out some DVDs. He dropped an original poem off at the front desk for one of his librarian friends to read, but she wasn't there.

Titled “The Red Mean,” the poem discusses former President Donald Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Richard England

In a Thursday phone interview, England admitted he had been an outspoken critic of former President Trump. But he said he was shocked when he received a call from the police informing him he’d been banned from the library and would be arrested for criminal trespass the next time he arrived. He took his case to the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.

“I said, ‘Look, this is about a poem in a library,’” England said. “It doesn't get more First Amendment than that.”

Library staff was “confused and scared” by the poem, according to the decision filed in the U.S. District Court of Southern Indiana. The library system argued the poem was a “true threat” under the First Amendment that would allow for England’s banishment. A library representative was not immediately available for comment.

In the decision filed at the end of March, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt said England’s poem amounted to political hyperbole – not a true threat – and that the decision to ban him without due process was a violation of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

“While the [library’s] Property Policy itself was content neutral, as applied against England, [Jackson County Public Library] engaged in content-based restrictions on his permitted expressive activity,” Walton wrote.

England said he’s been using the Bartholomew County Public Library in Columbus since the ban and isn’t sure when he’ll return to the library in Seymour.

U.S. District Court ruling on Seymour Library Ban by Indiana Public Media News on Scribd.

Mitch Legan