April 16, 2009 | By David Sobel

Remembering First Amendment Champion Judith Krug

The free expression community lost a giant with the passing last weekend of Judith Krug, longtime director of the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom. Dating back to the late 1960s, Judith was one of the nation's fiercest defenders of the First Amendment, often provoking the ire of those who sought to remove material they didn't like – for a variety of subjective (and usually narrow) reasons – from the shelves of our libraries.

Most of her work focused on the printed word, exemplified by her creation of Banned Books Week in 1982 to emphasize "the importance of ensuring the availability of . . . unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them." But Judith was instrumental in bringing those values to the emerging medium of the Internet and was one of the early voices opposing the Communications Decency Act (CDA), in which Congress sought to criminalize the online dissemination of "indecent" material. Through her leadership, the American Library Association was one of the principal members of a broad-based coalition (which included EFF) that challenged the CDA in court, a case that resulted in the Supreme Court's landmark Reno v. ACLU decision extending the full protection of the First Amendment to the Internet.

Judith's contribution to online freedoms continued with her opposition to mandatory use of filtering software in public libraries (PDF). Although the Supreme Court ultimately upheld Congress' authority to require the use of "censorware" as a condition of federal library subsidies, Judith's work sensitized the library community to the issues that arise when filtering systems are installed and limited the potential negative impact in libraries throughout the country.

I had the privilege of working with Judith for many years on the steering committee of the Free Expression Network, and came to expect her passionate and feisty defense of intellectual freedom in the face of the censorship effort du jour. Her presence will be missed, but her influence and inspiration will stay with us always as we work to protect basic freedoms in whatever media they are challenged.


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