Texas Residents Sue Over Public Library’s Book Ban

Texas residents allege in a federal lawsuit that Llano County officials are violating their constitutional rights by stripping books from public libraries “because they disagree with the ideas within them.”

The lawsuit filed Monday by seven residents of the central Texas county of about 20,000 residents accuses the county judge, commissioners, library board members and the library systems director of systematically censoring patrons’ right to access material both digitally and on shelves.

The censorship campaign, the suit says, was disguised as a means “to protect the community’s children from graphic sexual and ‘pornographic’ materials. In reality, none of the books targeted by Defendants is pornographic or obscene.”

Books the suit says have been censored include Maurice Sendak’s “In The Night Kitchen,” which features illustrations of a naked child, and children’s books on sexual health. The county also targeted illustrated “fart” and “butt” books, such as “I Need a New Butt!” and “Larry the Farting Leprechaun,” the complaint says.

Llano County’s judge, commissioners, library board members and the library systems director are accused of systematically censoring patrons’ right to access material both digitally and on shelves. In this photo, books line the shelves at the Rice University Library in Houston.

Brandon Bell via Getty Images

One of the defendants requested that library children’s books be moved to the adult sections, calling them “pornographic filth” and saying permission from a parent should be required for a child to check them out, according to the suit.

Adult books that were censored included “Caste, The Origins of Our Discontent,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson, “They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group,” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and the memoir “Being Jazz: My Life As A (Transgender) Teen,” by LGBTQ activist Jazz Jennings, according to the suit.

“The censorship that Defendants have imposed on Llano County public libraries is offensive to the First Amendment and strikes at the core of democracy,” the lawsuit states.

Officials named as defendants in the lawsuit did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.

The suit portrays the 10 defendants as power-hungry crusaders bent on total control of what library patrons read. They replaced library board members with individuals favoring censorship, held secret meetings, fired a head librarian opposed to the censorship and removed the library system’s entire digital book collection after failing to find a way to censor individual books, the suit says.

“Privately, Defendants have admitted that they are banning books because they disagree with their political viewpoints and dislike their subject matter,” the suit adds.

One defendant, now vice-chair of the library board, says in an email cited in the lawsuit that relocating troubling books was “the only way that I can think of to prohibit future censorship of books I do agree with, mainly the Bible, if more radicals come to town and want to use the fact that we censored these books against us.”

The censorship efforts eventually got the support of Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham, who in November instructed the library system director to remove “all books that depict any type of sexual activity or questionable nudity” from shelves, the suit says. Cunningham also prohibited librarians from purchasing new books. Cunningham’s office declined to comment, citing the litigation.

The following month, the county’s three libraries were closed for three days so the defendants could conduct a private review of the “appropriateness” of books in the teen and children’s sections. The defendants consulted a list of 850 books that state Rep. Matt Krause, a Republican running for state attorney general, found objectionable, according to the lawsuit.

In January, the suit says, county commissioners voted to dissolve the existing library board and replace it with pro-censorship individuals, including those who had advocated banning health picture books and volumes that appeared on Krause’s list, the suit alleges. The new board closed meetings to the public and staff librarians, and prohibited note-taking for fear that they might be considered public records, the suit claims.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Ellen Leonida, told the Texas Tribune that she plans to seek a preliminary injunction this week to get the books back on the shelves and to restore digital access while the lawsuit advances.

“They can’t censor books, unequivocally, based on viewpoints that they disagree with,” Leonida said.

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