(March 8, 2019) Safety concerns have forced the cancellation of a lecture on impeachment at the Worcester County Library in Berlin that was originally scheduled this Wednesday.

The program, part of a series on the U.S. Constitution presented by Howard Sribnick, drew the ire of some right-wing groups on social media, apparently prompting the canceling.

Library Director Jennifer Ranck said the program was planned in response to public interest generated during a series on the constitution held last fall.

“I think the topic of impeachment came up – because it’s in the Constitution – and it was just sort of an offshoot of that program,” she said. “It was intended to be an educational event. We asked Howard to teach the [one-session] class and I think people misrepresented the intent of the program.”

Sribnick is the president of the Worcester County Library Foundation and a former chairman of the Worcester County Democratic Central Committee Chairman.

According to Sribnick, the “decision [to cancel] was made in response to postings on the internet, including those appearing in the Facebook page of ‘Main Street Patriots Eastern Shore MD’ … [that] raised concerns regarding the safety of patrons of the library, including children using the library at the time of the presentation.”

In a March 1 Facebook reposting of an article titled “America’s Second Civil War Has Already Begun,” the Main Street Patriots Eastern Shore group wrote, “how many of you local folks will be at the Berlin library on Wednesday … for the primer (hosted by Democrats of course) on how to either impeach Trump or remove him from office via the 25th Amendment? They will collude and conspire to take away your vote (Trump won here in Worcester County by almost a 2 to 1 margin), will you be there to stand up for the truth?”

Among the comments the post received were, “Someone should take them out.”

According to Ranck, “We anticipated interest from all sides of the political spectrum, because this is a timely topic. I think once we started looking at what was on some of the social media sites, which alluded to the idea people perhaps using the event to hold a rally, that’s what caused us to cancel the program.”

Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing said he was made aware of the event shortly after notice was posted online. According to Downing, Berlin Police viewed the program in fashion similar to any town hall meeting when a contentious issue is on the agenda.

“Any time you have people of different views, it’s no different,” he said.

Regardless of the meeting’s cancelation, Downing said police would be stationed at the library on Wednesday, adding “social media isn’t like the telephone” and some may not be aware it’s no longer happening.

“We definitely view the library no different than the school,” Downing said. “If the staff feel uncomfortable, we need to do our best to make sure they feel safe and that they are safe.”

Ranck said there certainly were safety concerns.

“When people threatened to disrupt the presentation, we thought that would raise a safety issue for those who may be trying to attend the program, or just those who were using the library at that particular time on that particular day,” she said.

Ranck said Sribnick previously oversaw two constitutional lectures for the library last year at the Ocean Pines branch.

“We were so excited to have the new meeting room in Berlin that we can use to do a little bit more public programing … so I can’t say for certain whether we will have that [series] again,” she said. “We have had it twice and it was successful.”

She said people have asked questions about library programs before, but nothing has gathered quite this much attention.

“The purpose of library programs is to support and inform constituency and we plan on continuing offering programs that engage the community. In fact, we launched a ‘Choose Civility’ series this week, so we invite the public to participate in that program that we have this spring,” she said. “The program is planned for all ages and hopefully that will help promote respect, kindness and civility.”

Sribnick’s program, “Impeachment: Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution,” was previously described on the Worcester County Library website as follows:

“This presentation will review the provisions in the U.S. Constitution that set forth the procedures for the impeachment and removal of a President as well as the legal basis for applying those provisions. Among the issues that will be discussed are the Emoluments Clause, the 25th Amendment, the law limiting political contributions by foreign nationals, and the historical interpretation of the term ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’”

Included was a note from Sribnick: “This presentation came about in response to a request by a library patron, who wished to be informed of the law regarding impeachment.

“The presentation will cover the provisions of the Constitution that provide for the impeachment and removal of a sitting president. It is not intended to be an endorsement of the impeachment or removal of the current president. Both those who support President Trump and those who oppose him are likely to be dissatisfied with this program.

“The former, because the discussion of impeachment will be viewed as an affront to the President. The latter, because it will likely become clear that attempting to impeach and remove President Trump is unlikely to succeed and will further divide an already fractured nation. All in attendance will be asked to adhere to the library’s patron conduct policy.”

Josh Davis is an MDDC award-winning editor and reporter at the Bayside Gazette and Ocean City Today newspapers, covering Berlin and Ocean Pines, Maryland. He is the author of three novels, including 'Vanishing is the Last Art' (2012). He lives in Berlin.

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