Woman collecting signatures at library asked to move

Lois Shelton, a Missouri woman trying to collect signatures for a petition outside the Columbia Public Library, was asked to move by 3 police officers. Apparently the library has designated three spots where signature-gatherers can stand, and Shelton was not in these areas. This article in the Columbia Daily Tribune quotes a "constitutional law expert" who makes some puzzling statements:

'"There is certainly an argument that a library is meant for patrons’ use and is not necessarily a public forum."'

Is there a difference between patrons and the public? Is "use" only reading but not congregating or talking?

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Full access outside, limited access inside

My call on this one is that the buidling is indisputably a public forum and there can be no limitations on the exterior grounds. Inside, certain limits can be imposed, but those limits must serve to maintain order. Ms. Shelton should certainly have been allowed to take up a static position inside -- they could have given her a table, for instance -- and perhaps even to approach patrons at the tables or among the stacks as long as she was not disruptive and respected the rights of the patrons to be left alone when so advised.

(Three squad cars? Were they waiting for some fresh coffee to be brewed at the Dunkin' Donuts?)

Public Property

I think the library serves as both a public forum and for patron use. It sounds as if the library in question believes the same. Now, I'm not sure where exactly the three places are for signature gatherers and petitioners, but I'd hope they're not in obscure places. If not, then this sounds like a tremendous idea. I've seen shopping centres deluged with petitioners all over the place trying to get a signature for this or that. Three places to work means you can have up to three petitioners at any given time, and no more. Keeps traffic flowing, and keeps the "public" end of the library on the up and up. And if this is such a constitutional issue, then why wasn't the idiot standing in one of the three spots designated for her use? Contrary to popular belief, libraries do have some say on the public property outside their building.

And I get so damned sick of hearing the phrase "it's public property, so they can't tell me what to do." Who in the hell thought that one up? Cop cars are paid for by taxes, so they're public property. Why don't you go take one and see what happens? Parks are public property. Try changing the colour of a wall painting in a park, or better yet, replant some of the flowerbeds. National Wildlife Reserves are public property, so go hunting on one. After all, it's public property, they can't tell you what to do. They with their "laws" and their "facts."

A library is public property too, but damn it, I can tell someone what to do while they're in here. Like many other libraries, we have very few rules, but one of our most cardinal is "You must have a library card on you to check out materials." You can do anything else in the library you want. You can read, you can get online, you can hold a conference in our meeting room. You can utilize all of our services except one, checking stuff out. You need a card, bring the little sucker with you when you come. Yet at least twice a month I get the lecture from some ten cent shmuck with a ten dollar attitude telling me how he/she is a tax payer and is entitled to "rights." When someone comes in and starts raising hell, I can tell them to get out, even though it's public property. There's not a single piece of public property in the US that isn't bound by some kind of rules which surround how it's used, who uses it, and when its used.

Public Library Use

The library is a respository of information and a non-political place to gain that knowledge. It should not be a place that espouses a point of you either through collection development agendas or encouraging petition signers. I think it is true to American ideals that there are designated areas for petition activity, however it is within the rights of the library to limit those locations. If there are no limitations then the next step is to enter the library and approach readers directly. Such activity is akin to telemarkers calling at dinner time. Why is there such eagerness to politicize the library? The pursuit of knowledge and politics just don't mix.

Re:Public Property

And I get so damned sick of hearing the phrase "it's public property, so they can't tell me what to do." Who in the hell thought that one up? Cop cars are paid for by taxes, so they're public property. Why don't you go take one and see what happens? Parks are public property. Try changing the colour of a wall painting in a park, or better yet, replant some of the flowerbeds. National Wildlife Reserves are public property, so go hunting on one. After all, it's public property, they can't tell you what to do. They with their "laws" and their "facts."

Very well said. This is fabulous! The whole "I'm a taxpayer blah blah blah" argument is so tiresome and baseless.

I find this too weird

The article doesn't say if she was shouting or just being passive while holding a sign explaining what she was doing. IMHO, if she wasn't standing in the doors blocking a fire exit or shouting at every passer-by or crusing the parking lot like some panhandler then she shouldn't have been hassled.

Re:Public Property

The baselessness depends entirely on what the argument is being used to justify and how it is being used. Great Western Dragon's examples above are excellent. However, if one says "I'm a taxpayer and I don't like my tax money being spent on corporate handouts/abortion/promoting religion/promoting evolution/public transport/defense, and I intend to vote/protest/petition/blog accordingly", then one is entirely within one's right. There are probably other sorts of the "I'm a taxpayer and ..." argument that are valid as well.

I'm sure you didn't mean to dismiss the notion that taxpayers are entitled to some kind of say in how they are governed.

Re:Public Property

I have to agree with the public property idea up to a point. However she did not want to repaint, nor hunt or do anything but collect signatures on a petition. Since the Constitution mentions petitions but not parks or hunting I tend to err on the side of caution.

That said, I would rather have ten people ask me for my signature than one bum whizzing himself, the chair and the carpet in the library. In my local PL the bums have ruined the place. Of course the bums are protected.

If you think you are sick of the taxpayer/public property try being a cop. I did that for 9 months until our fine mayor let the entire new recruit group go because of budget shortages in'85. Most of the other 21 people left the city to work for the County Sheriff. I'm lucky I didn't shoot someone by then. That is the crappiest job on the face of the earth.

Library non-political

Library non-political. That is really funny. No I mean it, that's a scream.

What world is it you live in?

freedom of speech or business venture?

Shelton is a full-time petition gatherer. The Fayette woman works as an independent contractor for National Voter Outreach, a company that gets hired by folks with a cause to get referendums on the ballot all over the nation. This woman is a paid signature gatherer. That adds a different element in my mind. Sure, she wasn't trying to get people to buy her cosmetic line or life insurance, but somewhere she had an employer who was paying her to do what she was doing on *public* library property. It sounds to me like the people signing the petition were exercising their 1st Amendment right. She was conducting her business.

Re:freedom of speech or business venture?

I don't think that matters in this type of situation. There was a US Supreme Court case, Meyer v. Grant, 486 U.S. 414, 108 S.Ct. 1886 (1988), in which the court struck down a Colorado statute that prohibited the use of paid petition signature gatherers. The court held that petiton gathering is "core political speech" which is the highest form of protected speech and any effort to restrict it is subject to strict scrutiny analysis. The court then went on to state that there is really no difference between paid petition signature gatherers and volunteer petition signature gatherers. I think that would hold true in this situation.

To me it sounds like this is a first amendment violation. Petitioning the government is one of the most protected kinds of speech. The article (editorial really) is a bit sketchy and one-sided but it sounds like she isn't being loud or disruptive in gathering signatures. In addition, she appears to be doing it outside.

Sure there are different kinds of public property. Aircraft carriers and police cars are certainly publicly owned property but the general public doesn't have a right to use them; however, libraries probably fall under that category of publicly owned property that is traditionally viewed as a forum (especially if it the outside of a public library).

Campaigning

I've actually been trying to find some information related to this issue. Just this morning we had someone park in the libary parking area. They came early, before we opened, to get the spot facing the street and then placed large campaigns signs on the top of their vehicle. I spoke to them but since they already hold the position they are campaigning again for they didn't feel the need to move. I'm pretty sure its illegal to do this on town property but so far no luck finding where it says it in the local or state laws.

As for the petitioners, its just another form of campaigning and should definitly be kept outside the library and preferrably off the property. We should be providing an environment where people aren't being hassled. The patron has rights too.

re: car signs

Does your city advertise on buses? If so, you're SOL.Otherwise you can try looking at nuisance laws, and as a distraction to traffic. And/or advertising limits (ie: billboard regulations).But if you don't regulate other advertisers, I see no reason to regulate this cheap advertiser.Political speech is more highly valued than mere advertising, and you can still run into trouble. My best advice is to vote against him, and/or run a counter campaign against him. Park your car next to his, and put up counter signs.Do you have a parking time-limit? Probably not, and if that's the case, suck it up. If those are truly prime parking spaces - park there yourself, or wait till the election cycle is over, and then implement a posted 1-3 hour limited parking zone (or pickup/drop-off parking space), with towing and fees which you can optionally enforce. don't do it just to spite this fellow, that's unfair. Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency.I'm of the opinion as long as petitioners/protestors do not block passage (ie: there's room for two people abreast to walk between them - or only one on a sidewalk), and aren't unruly, loud, or insulting (fighting words, vulgarity, threats), they should be allowed outside public buildings on approved walkways. I might approve of the condition that they must stand, instead of getting tables and chairs and things - but that must be equally applied to everyone - advertisers, radio stations, girl scouts, and civic groups. I don't think that they should be allowed to come up and address people within the library. However if they want to hold down a table - with a (smallish) sign - and answer questions/attempt to get signatures from curious patrons who choose to go up to them, I think that is fine, subject to library approval.-- Ender, Duke_of_URL

Re:freedom of speech or business venture?

Here is a good analysis of the different types of publicly owned property and the regulation of speech on those publicly owned properties. It is by Eugene Volokh at the Volokh Conspiracy. Here is the link:

http://volokh.com/2004_03_28_volokh_archive.html#1 08051577685312096

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