An Indiana man once again can patronize his local public library after a federal judge ruled that a ban for life issued against him because of a poem he wrote is unconstitutional.
Richard England, 68, had gone to the Jackson County Public Library on Nov. 16, 2020, to return items and check out DVDs, reports The Tribune in Seymour, Ind. While there he wanted to give a library employee a poem he had composed, entitled "The Red Mean."
The paper says "the employee, however, was not there at that time. As a result, England decided to leave the poem in a basket on the circulation desk, which contained medical face masks for library patrons, and then left the library without incident."
The poem reads: “Know no good, bring out your dead, let them eat cake, off with your head. Before you become Donald Trump’s clone, know Satan’s reward, is only a loan. Liars are losers, haters are cruel, oh what a pity, to die such a fool.”
About 15 to 30 minutes after England left, a library employee found the poem inside the basket. The employee “was scared after reading the poem” and believed it contained threatening language, “particularly its references to death and Satan.”
The employee then gave the poem to her supervisor, who “was shocked, scared and confused.” The supervisor then gave the poem to the library administrator, who said when she spoke to staff, “(their) voices were shaking. They were really upset.” The library contacted the local police department. When England returned home there was a voicemail waiting for him from a Seymour police officer informing him that he was “banned from the library for the rest of his life, and that if he returned to the library, he would be arrested for criminal trespass.”
England challenged the ban in court with help from the ACLU.
“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 a statement. “In addition, the First Amendment protects people who, regardless of their views, attempt to hold the government accountable through expression.”
In a decision filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana on March 31, Chief Judge Tanya Walton Pratt found the library “violated and is violating” a Jackson County man’s rights under the First and 14th amendments by permanently banning him “for exercising protected speech.”