SIGNIFICANCE: BELLOSPIRITO V. MANHASSET PUBLIC LIBRARY
Robyn Bellospirito arranged to have a collection of her paintings exhibited in the Community Room of the Manhasset Public Library, a room reserved for community uses that often included art displays. The library approved Ms. Bellospirito’s work for display prior to learning that some of the pieces depicted semi-nude women. When the library discovered that some of the paintings contained nudes, it informed Ms. Bellospirito that its “policy” against nudity prohibited her from displaying some of her artwork, despite its concession that the disputed works were fairly innocuous. Notably, the “policy” invoked to block the display of the artwork was not clearly written or articulated in any tangible form. Ms. Bellospirito brought an action against the library asserting that her First Amendment rights had been violated.
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York held in favor of Ms. Bellospirito. It found that the library was, at a minimum, a limited public forum where the artistic expression was unquestionable within the established parameters of the forum, and therefore, any restriction on the content of speech was subject to the same strict scrutiny applied to content based regulations of speech in public forums. Specifically, any content based regulations must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. It concluded that the Library’s efforts to “protect” young people with an outright ban on all nudity was overbroad. The Library could have drawn up a policy narrowly tailored to serve the compelling state interest in protecting children from sexually explicit material, but had failed to do so.