Recently, a concerned individual contacted Mauck & Baker regarding an experience she had at her local library in which she attempted to visit a conservative Christian website on the public computer, but access to the website was blocked. When she asked library staff why the website was not available, they told her that it appeared on their blocklist as an identified hate group. This supposed “hate group” was the Illinois Family Institute, an organization that seeks to “advance public policy initiatives that are consistent with Judeo-Christian teachings and traditions” and a familiar partner with Mauck & Baker. Seeing a conservative, Biblically-based organization listed in such a way seemed to point towards religious and/or political bias.

As legal watchdogs for religious freedom, we decided to investigate to determine if other libraries around Chicago were doing the same. This involved mobilizing testers to visit a representative number of public libraries to verify whether certain websites were indeed being blocked with any noticeable bias against certain political ideologies or religious beliefs.

Sites that were searched for included many Christian organizations falsely identified as “hate groups” on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Map.” The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is known for being unreliable in its policing of right and wrong and has even included Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on their “Hate Map” for upholding the rights of religious people to decline their services for same-sex weddings.

Recently, the SPLC was sued by an individual it wrongfully condemned. See this article by the Washington Post about how the SPLC classified a Muslim man as being an “anti-Muslim extremist.”

As Columnist Marc A. Thiessen writes, “The SPLC is a once-storied organization that did important work filing civil rights lawsuits against the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. But it has become a caricature of itself, labeling virtually anyone who does not fall in line with its left-wing ideology an ‘extremist’ or ‘hate group.’”

Because of the possibility that a government-funded institution such as a public library may be blindly blocking groups on the SPLC’s website and restricting the public’s freedom to information, we used many of the groups on their list in our experiment.

After testing the search results for various different libraries in the Chicagoland area, we were pleased to find no indication of discrimination. While this is good news for Chicago, we only scratched the surface. Our results were not comprehensive, so we can’t speak for other areas. Believers need to stay vigilant. If you notice a site being blocked at your local library for seemingly discriminatory reasons on the basis of faith or belief, please call us at 312-977-0480.