The American Council for the Blind and Playboy Enterprises filed suit against the Library of Congress yesterday asking that the library continue to produce and distribute a braille edition of Playboy magazine for handicapped readers.
A congressional amendment cutting funds for braille transcription and distribution of the magazine violates the right to freedom of speech, the lawsuit said.
Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin, while calling the budget cut "censorship," announced in September that he would not renew the library's contract to produce a braille edition of Playboy. His move came in response to a budget amendment introduced last July by Rep. Chalmers Wylie (R-Ohio), who charged that the magazine "assails traditional moral values" and "peddles licit and illicit sex." His amendment cut $103,000 from the $1.3 billion appropriations bill, the exact amount it costs to produce 1,000 12-month subscriptions to Playboy. Boorstin had no comment yesterday on the lawsuit.
As representatives of the blind noted yesterday, no attempt was made to deprive sighted library patrons of Playboy. Furthermore, they said, the braille edition includes no pictures, advertisements or cartoons.
"Many people react with amusement when they learn that Playboy has been available in braille . . . and that it is one of the more popular magazines in the Library of Congress program," said Scott Marshall, a Harvard Law School graduate and one of the plaintiffs in the suit. "Somehow the very thought of a braille centerfold . . . is funny to some and offensive to others . . . Of course, this suit is not a laughing matter."
Oral Miller of the National Council for the Blind called the Wylie amendment "blatant and paternalistic censorship" and said that Congress had "decided to act as the censor for the blind."
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, alleges that Wylie's amendment was introduced and debated while fewer than 218 House members were present, less than a quorum; that a five-minute recess was then called to find a quorum; and that House members then voted on the amendment without knowing what it was. The amendment itself does not mention Playboy, but merely deletes $103,000 from the budget of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. The vote was 216-193, and the Senate subsequently approved the appropriations bill with the amendment intact.
The service circulates 36 magazines in braille and more than 18 million books to 163 locations around the country. Congress appropriated $36.5 million for the program in 1985, with another $27 million coming from state and local sources.
Two congressmen, Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), joined blind readers, ACB, Playboy, the American Library Association and the Blinded Veterans Association at a press conference yesterday and said they would be filing a "friends-of-the-court" brief in their support.
"Singling out handicapped persons" with such a funding cut, Lewis said later, is "ludicrous."
Deborah Kendrick, a blind writer and poet who is a regular contributor to Dialogue magazine, the largest general publication for visually impaired readers, said losing Playboy would be a professional hardship to her. She reads it to keep up with contemporary fiction, she said, as well as for research. As an example she cited a story on street drugs Playboy published two years ago that helped her in researching two articles on drug-treatment programs for adolescents.
"There are apparently a number of stereotyped notions regarding the sort of man who reads Playboy," she said. "Well, I am the mother of two young children, a Girl Scout leader, a PTA board member and an active participant in the Catholic Church."
Kendrick, who has been blind since childhood, recalled a comment made by her mother-in-law when a priest questioned allowing her son to read J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye." "Her response to the accusation was simply, 'The fact that I read Agatha Christie certainly does not mean that I condone murder.' If I am today denied the right to read Playboy on the basis that I am incapable of coping with its content, tomorrow's forbidden right might . . . be [access] to Better Homes and Gardens on the assumption that I am incapable of decorating my home."