A federal district court judge from Texas has put a stop to the ongoing removal of books, many of which have LGBTQ themes, from the Llano County library system. The move has led to the immediate reinstatement of these books, which government officials in the central Texas county attempted to push out from their three libraries. The ruling comes as communities and lawmakers nationwide continue to debate what children can read about topics such as race and gender.
The lawsuit was first filed by seven residents of Llano County, which is approximately 80 miles northwest of Austin, in April of last year against various public officials, including the county judge and the library system’s director. The plaintiffs’ counsel Ellen Leonida celebrated this decision, calling it “a ringing victory for democracy” and emphasizing that “the government cannot tell citizens what they can or can’t read.”
The lawsuit alleged that the county judge, Ron Cunningham, county commissioner Jerry Don Moss, and library system director Amber Milum removed children’s titles that received complaints from the community. Nearly one year after the litigation first began, the court had found that library officials violated the First Amendment by restricting access to specific books based on their content and messages.
The “Butt and Fart Books,” a series of children’s picture books, were among those taken off the shelves in 2021. A community group claimed that these books were obscene and promoted “grooming” behavior. However, several commissioners and librarians had no problem with keeping these books on the shelves.
Members of the group that complained later formed the library system’s new board, and plaintiffs argued that this move was meant to appoint more “politically aligned” members who could draft new collection and removal policies. The group that initially complained had also presented a list of books to Cunningham that they labeled as “pornographic filth” and which discussed LGBTQ views and race. Cunningham, Moss, and Milum swiftly moved to pull these books from shelves as well.
The libraries were closed for three days in December so that all children’s titles could undergo a thorough review. As some of the books were available for checkout through the free ebook and audiobook service OverDrive, the county’s commissioners court unanimously decided to suspend access to all 17,000 of OverDrive’s titles for library patrons.
The judge’s order mandates that the books be returned to the library system’s catalog as well as to their original location on physical shelves. “Our nation was founded on the free exchange of ideas, and banning books you disagree with is a direct attack on our most basic liberties,” Leonida said.
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