Northshire Bookstore Responds to Free Speech Threat

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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 Saratoga Springs 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. More than 3,000 people have 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.

“What I thought was a slightly academic argument resonated widely, making me think about the larger question of tolerance and free speech in this era of heightened fear and fear-mongering,” Morrow said. “Many people are looking for ways to tap into sanity.”

To help bookstores respond to the kind of free speech issue Northshire confronted, the American Booksellers for Free Expression is sponsoring a program at Winter Institute, “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.