Teen Banned From Libraries After Ignoring Requests To Quit Religious Proselytizing

COLUMBUS, Ga. —A 16-year-old boy has been banned from all branches of the Chattahoochee Valley Regional Library System for six months for proselytizing.

According to a letter from Kirsten Edwards, acting manager of the North Columbus Public Library, Caleb Hanson repeatedly asked patrons "about their religious faith and to offer biblical advice."

Caleb received the letter through his parents, Tim and Elizabeth Hanson, who are in Columbus on furlough from missions work.

He said he was given several warnings, since June, from the library on Britt David Road.

"At first (library employees) warned me not to do it," he said. "Then they took me into an office and told me not to do it."

He said he then began talking to people outside the library, and patrons continued to complain.

Claudya Muller, the director of the Chattahoochee Valley Regional Library System, said the ban "had nothing to do with what he was saying, but he was warned multiple times. ... As people came in, he would approach them. He prevented people from simply using the library."

In addition to the North Columbus branch, the system includes the Columbus, South Columbus, Mildred L. Terry, Cusseta-Chattahoochee, Lumpkin, Marion County and Parks Memorial public libraries. The ban was effective Aug. 28.

Caleb's parents are ministers outside the U.S. They are living with Elizabeth's parents, Raymond and Janet Jacobs, who are retired missionaries.

Caleb is home-schooled and attends First Assembly of God in Phenix City, where he's active in the youth group. He is the youngest of four children.

Last year, "he had a real encounter with the Lord and he wanted to witness for the Lord," his mother said.

Ordinarily her son is shy, she said, but he began asking to be dropped off at stores and other locations to share his faith.

"One time a man at Walmart asked him, 'Do your parents know you're doing this?' And he said, 'Yeah, they do it too,'" Elizabeth Hanson said. "It's not something we told him to do."

The letter from Edwards says Caleb's library card has been blocked, and that if he returns before Feb. 28, he'll be criminally trespassing.

Michael Broyde, professor of law and the academic director of the Law and Religion Program at Emory University in Atlanta, said the library's decision seems appropriate.

"My intuition is that this is reasonable," Broyde said Monday. "It falls under the time, place and manner restriction."

According to material from The First Amendment Center in Nashville, Tenn.: "Time, place and manner considerations are those that could act as restrictions on what would ordinarily be First Amendment-protected expression. For example, people have the right to march in protest, but not with noisy bullhorns at 4 a.m. in a residential neighborhood."

Broyde said the restriction could apply to libraries. "In a place like a library, where silence is generally accepted, they can restrict unneeded pestering," he said.

Elizabeth Hanson said she has contacted the American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian advocacy center in Washington, D.C., but has not gotten a response.

For his part, Caleb said he's taking the library's letter in stride.

"I don't feel offended by it," he said. "We're still praying about what to do."