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Federal judge gives Texas county 24 hours to return banned LGBTQ+ books to library shelves

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A federal judge has ordered government officials in Llano County, Texas to return books with LGBTQ+ and anti-racist themes to the county’s public libraries after conservative officials removed them.

Seven Llano County citizens sued county officials when local officials removed 12 titles from county libraries. The books included Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings, In the Night Kitchen by gay children’s book author Maurice Sendak, It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie H. Harris, and They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleged that county officials suspended access to e-books in order to block other titles, dissolved the county’s existing library board, and replaced the board with an “advisory board” containing appointed members who favor book bans. Officials also closed the advisory board’s meetings to the public and staff librarians, CNN reported. The officials’ actions violated county residents’ constitutional rights to free speech and due process, the lawsuit said.

The county had removed the books after community groups complained that they contained “pornographic filth” that promoted “acceptance of LGBTQ views.” Bonnie Wallace, one of the newly appointed advisory board members, even suggested allying with local pastors to “organize a weekly prayer vigil on this specific issue…. May God protect our children from this FILTH.”

The lawsuit stated, “Public libraries are not places of government indoctrination. They are not places where the people in power can dictate what their citizens are permitted to read about and learn. When government actors target public library books because they disagree with and intend to suppress the ideas contained within them, it jeopardizes the freedoms of everyone.”

The lawsuit identified Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham, the county’s commissioners, the library system director, and four library board members as defendants. The defendants said that the books were eliminated as part of the county’s regular “weeding” process.

Last Saturday, federal Judge Robert Pittman ordered the defendants to return the books to the shelves within 24 hours and to update the county libraries’ online cataloging system to show that the books are publicly available. The county is also barred from removing any additional books while the legal case remains open.

In his decision, Pitman said there was no evidence that the removed books were even part of the county’s “weeding” process before the county received complaints about them. Pitman also notes that the 12 books removed contain themes and content that are also contained in numerous books that have nonetheless remained available within the county’s three library branches for years.

“Although libraries are afforded great discretion for their selection and acquisition decisions, the First Amendment prohibits the removal of books from libraries based on either viewpoint or content discrimination,” Pitman said in his decision.

The defendants have already filed an appeal to the ruling. They’re being represented by Jonathan Mitchell, the lawyer who spearheaded the case alleging that employers shouldn’t have to cover contraceptives and PrEP HIV-prevention medication because it violates their religious freedom.

Bans on LGBTQ+-related library books have “escalated dramatically” over the last year, according to the free speech advocacy organization PEN America.

Ellen Leonida, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said, “The government cannot tell citizens what they can or can’t read. 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.” She called Pitman’s ruling a “ringing victory for democracy.”

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