Originally created 02/20/00

City to vote on Internet filters at library



HOLLAND, Mich. -- In a community known more for its tulips than its politics, the question of whether the local library should install Internet filters to shield children from pornography will share space on the ballot this week with the GOP presidential contenders.

Supporters of the proposed ordinance say Holland is the first city in the country to vote on library filters, which they argue will protect children from sexually explicit material.

Opponents say the entire issue has been exaggerated by outside interests who threaten to compromise the free speech rights of the community.

"This is a manufactured problem," said Gary Pullano, spokesman for the Herrick District Library. "We encourage voters to become aware of the situation ... to come to a library, to see that we don't have a problem here."

A local chapter of the Mississippi-based American Family Association got the issue on Tuesday's ballot by gathering about 2,500 signatures.

Holland Mayor Pro Tem Craig Rich, an opponent of the proposal who describes himself as conservative, said the group merely hopes to score a victory in order to take the issue nationwide.

"I have hopes that the issue will fail on the ballot and the people of the area will then have a sane and sensible discussion ... instead of one forced by the American Family Association's commando tactics," Rich said.

If adopted, the ordinance would cut off city funding to the library until the filters are installed.

Supporters like Holland mother Carolyn Scoby said she was using the Internet at the library when pornographic pictures started popping up on the screen.

"If it happened to me, it could happen to kids," she says. "The library is not doing enough to protect them."

But opponents contend filters don't work and would prevent library patrons from accessing legitimate information. The library's five-member board of directors opposes the ordinance.

According to an October report by a pro-filtering group, Filtering Facts, more than 75 libraries installed filters on their terminals over the past year, bringing the total to nearly 1,000. Other libraries filter terminals in their children's sections only, and thousands of other libraries refuse to install filters.

The debate here has gotten plenty of attention. The Family Research Council, a conservative group in Washington, is buying newspaper ads and holding forums in support of filtering. And Republican presidential hopeful John McCain has spoken out in favor of filtering.

Duane Baker, a high school government teacher, said he expects there will be a lot of people at the polls on primary day interested in more than the GOP contest.

"We're all talking about it," he said. "There appears to be no middle ground. ... It's fairly split here."