A man who said he has “no idea” what his daughter is reading is suing her local library, saying she “lacked the proper education” to make the decision to read a children’s book.
The incident happened in September, when a young woman with cerebral palsy came to the library to pick up a book, and was told by a staff member to “get back to her own room”.
In a court filing, the family of five, who are all members of the same religion, said that while the young woman had read The Brothers Karamazov, she was not familiar with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or the Sherlock Holmes stories.
“As a result, she is unable to decide whether to read the children’s books or the adult books,” the filing said.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Illinois, is seeking damages of up to $1.5 million from the local library.
The suit also seeks to overturn a “false claim” by the library that it did not have “the right to refuse service to the plaintiff, who was clearly a resident”.
The lawsuit also names the library as defendants.
The family of two, who identify as atheist and who did not want their names used, said they were told by staff members that they were not allowed to read children’s literature because the book they were requesting had been discontinued by the local school district.
The complaint, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is one of several recent legal challenges to public libraries that have been brought by atheists or other non-believers.
“When you look at the number of cases that have come up over the last few years, they’re the kind of cases where people are really feeling like they have a legal right to do something,” said Chris Shelton, the executive director of the American Humanist Association (AHA).
“We’re seeing a lot of cases, and it’s a real-world Dickensian horror story.”
The American Humanists, a nonprofit that supports the rights of atheists, has helped dozens of people who have complained about a library refusing to give them a book.
One case involves a woman who told the group that she was “very upset” after a local library in New York refused to let her read her favourite children’s story, A Tale of Two Cities.
The story, which tells the story of a fictional town that follows the rise and fall of a young hero and heroine, was the subject of a film and is now available in several languages.
A New York City councilman, who asked not to be named, told Al Jazeera that “it’s a matter of basic fairness for a library to treat a person as they would treat any other person”.
The New York branch of the Illinois branch of Chicago’s public library is among the local branches that are refusing to accommodate people with disabilities.
A similar situation has been reported in Philadelphia, where a woman with developmental disabilities who was unable to read and write was denied access to a childrens book because it was not a children story.
The ACLU said it had “been concerned” about the Chicago case, but said it “wasn’t about religious discrimination”.
Shelton said that the Chicago library’s actions “have raised legitimate concerns”.
“We have been making calls for these libraries to address these issues.
But they are not listening,” he said.
“We want to know why they are taking this step and to know that this library is not a place where people with mental health issues, or people who suffer from a variety of disabilities, are going to be discriminated against.”
The Chicago branch of a public library refused to allow a disabled woman to read her childrens story.
– Reuters / Getty Images