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ABFE Free Speech Report

ABFE Free Speech Report, vol. 2, no. 1, January 2016

ABA Extremely Concerned About Hong Kong Booksellers

The American Booksellers Association issued a statement on January 7 expressing “extreme concern” over the fate of five employees of a Hong Kong publisher and its bookstore who have apparently been taken into custody by Chinese authorities and brought to the Chinese mainland. The men are employees of Mighty Current, which is well-known for publishing books critical of the Chinese government. “If it is true that these men have been kidnapped, the Chinese have grossly violated the pledge they made to maintain freedom of the press when they took over Hong Kong in 1997,” said ABA CEO Oren Teicher.

The ABA statement calls on the Chinese government to explain the disappearance of the booksellers and to release them immediately if it is holding them. It also urges the United States government to investigate the case.

The ABA was joined by the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, the European & International Booksellers Federation, and PEN American Center in issuing the statement.

Northshire Bookstore Responds to Free Speech Threat

A customer of the Northshire Bookstore exploded in anger a few days before Christmas when he observed American Qur’an (Liveright), an illustrated copy of the Muslim religious text, on display in the store’s Saratoga Springs, New York, branch. The man yelled at two store employees and threatened to “do everything he could to put us out of business,” store owner Chris Morrow said. He later made good on his threat by falsely reporting on the Internet that the bookstore was closing.

Morrow said that he initially planned to ignore the threat but changed his mind and posted this short report of the incident on Northshire’s Facebook page:

“We have an upset customer. He is upset because we have a Qur’an on display in the store. ....In case our view on what we carry is not clear, let me explain: We are a bookstore that carries books of all types, of all political spectra, all religions, and all varieties. We exist to provide education, entertainment, and inspiration without bias. If terrorism succeeds in closing our minds off, terrorism has succeeded. No more shots need to be fired. If we are so insecure in our own basic goodness and faith that we can’t tolerate, let alone appreciate, the display of ‘other,’ in whatever form, then we are terrorists ourselves; we are fighting jihad against the very open society that our country’s founders fought so hard to establish.”

Morrow was surprised by the strong response to his post. In the days immediately following, more than 3,000 people indicated their support by “liking” his posting and over 500 people added comments. Customers complimented the statement during visits to the store. People even approached Morrow on the street. The local TV station in Albany sent a reporter who interviewed him standing in front of a memorial to Thomas Jefferson.

Winter Institute Program Will Stress Training to Meet Free Speech Threats

To help bookstores respond to the kind of free speech issue Northshire confronted, the American Booksellers for Free Expression is sponsoring the Winter Institute program “ABFE Presents: The Tattered Cover Free Speech Training Method.” Matthew Miller, general manager of Tattered Cover, will recreate the training that is given to all new employees of the Denver store to help them respond to angry customers and address other free speech problems that often occur in bookstores. The hour-long session will be interactive and will include an exercise in which attendees will break into small groups to discuss how to respond to a censorship case. “ABFE Presents” will be held at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 26.

Court Hears Arguments in Louisiana Bookseller Case

On Friday, December 18, attorneys representing two New Orleans bookstores and the American Booksellers Association appeared before a federal judge in Baton Rouge and urged him to block enforcement of a new Louisiana law that requires website owners to verify that visitors to their sites are 18 or older before providing access to non-obscene material that could be deemed “harmful to minors” because of its sexual content. Failure to comply is punishable by a $10,000 fine.

ABA, Garden District Book Shop, and Octavia Books are challenging the law as a violation of the First Amendment rights of booksellers, publishers, and readers. The plaintiffs argued that the law will have a chilling effect on the rights of both adults and older minors. The other plaintiffs are the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and Future Crawfish Paper, a Louisiana company that publishes the magazine Anti-Gravity.

The plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law. The judge requested post-hearing briefs and/or declarations to be filed by January 15, 2016.

Mount Horeb Says “No” to Censorship

A plan to read a children’s book about a transgender girl to an elementary school class was cancelled in late November in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, when school officials were threatened with legal action if they permitted the reading. As happens so often, however, the attempted censorship appears to have backfired. ABFE Director Chris Finan discusses the case in his latest “Free Speech” column in Bookselling This Week.

The American Booksellers for Free Expression, a program of the American Booksellers Association, is the bookseller's voice in the fight against censorship. Please visit our resources page for information about how booksellers can prepare for a variety of free speech emergencies or email In a crisis, call me, ABFE Director Chris Finan, at (917) 509-0340.
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