The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana announced Tuesday it has filed a lawsuit against the Jackson County Public Library.
Filed on behalf of Richard England, the lawsuit comes after library officials issued a lifetime ban against the 68-year-old Seymour man for sharing an anti-Trump poem, which he contends is a violation of his First Amendment right of free speech.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the New Albany Division of the Southern District of Indiana federal court.
Library officials said they were unaware of the lawsuit until being contacted by The Tribune, and the library’s attorney, Matt Lorenzo, could not be reached for comment.
In the complaint, England contends he left a poem he wrote called “The Red Mean,” which criticized then-President Donald Trump, at the circulation desk at the Jackson County Public Library in Seymour on or about Nov. 16, 2020.
He said he had planned on giving the poem to an employee he thought would enjoy it, but they weren’t at the library at the time, so England left the poem in a basket on the circulation desk that also contained face masks for customers.
In a news release, the ACLU of Indiana alleges the poem “was not vulgar, threatening, obscene or otherwise inappropriate.”
When he returned home, England said he had a voicemail from the Seymour Police Department saying he was banned from the library for the rest of his life and if he returned, he would be arrested for criminal trespassing.
England contacted the library after receiving the voicemail, and the circulation manager told him, “We don’t do politics at the library,” according to the lawsuit.
In addition to England contending his First Amendment rights are being violated by the ban, he also says he was not afforded notice of the ban and an opportunity to be heard prior to its issuance, which violates the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
England said he had been going to the library twice a week for more than a decade to check out books, movies and music because he is not able to afford cable television, internet service or other forms of paid entertainment due to his limited income.
When checking out materials at the library, England said he received a “receipt” that stated the due dates for the items he was borrowing and how much money he was saving rather than purchasing them.
A receipt from mid-November showed he had saved $2,471.68 over the course of his recent visits. According to the lawsuit, England visited the library 13 times between Oct. 5 and Nov. 16, 2020.
England said he wants to be allowed to return to the library, which is open for curbside service only because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to recover his costs and attorneys’ fees.
“The library’s action banning Mr. England from accessing materials impacts his right to receive information,” said Gavin M. Rose, ACLU of Indiana senior attorney. “In addition, the First Amendment protects people who, regardless of their views, attempt to hold the government accountable through expression.”