In an order filed on Thursday, a federal judge in Texas determined that at least 12 books seized from public libraries by Llano County officials, many because of their LGBTQ and racial content, must be put back on the shelves within 24 hours.
In April 2022, seven county residents filed a lawsuit alleging that their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights had been infringed when books that Republican lawmakers and other community members found offensive were either taken from public libraries or restricted access.
In the lawsuit, county officials removed books from the three-branch public library system’s shelves “because they disagree with the beliefs in them” and cut off access to thousands of digital books because they were unable to forbid two specific titles.
Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s “They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group,” and Jazz Jennings’ “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen” are among the books that have been ordered to be put back on the shelves.
US District Judge Robert Pitman’s decision, the library system must likewise list these works as being available in its catalog and cannot delete any volumes for any reason while the lawsuit is still pending.
“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.
With worrying increases in attempts to censor books in K–12 schools, universities, and public libraries, the battle to defend access to books is taking place against the backdrop of a book-banning boom. Several of these initiatives, which are part of a larger, conservative-led drive to undermine the rights and status of LGBTQ People, aim to ban books with LGBTQ characters or themes.
Additionally, a large number of book bans target authors of color who write about history, racism, or their own experiences in America.
“This is a ringing victory for democracy,” said Ellen Leonida, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the Texas case. “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.”
If Llano County officials have cooperated with the judge’s order is not immediately evident.
Four members of the Llano County library board, Bonnie Wallace, Rochelle Wells, Rhonda Schneider, and Gay Baskin, as well as county commissioners Jerry Don Moss, Peter Jones, Mike Sandoval, and Linda Raschke, as well as director of the library system Amber Milum, are named as co-defendants in the case. CNN’s inquiries for comments received no response from them.
The defendants claimed the volumes were taken out as part of routine “weeding” in accordance with the library’s rules, but Pitman claimed there was obvious outside involvement.
Regardless of whether the books met the criteria for “weeding” under the library’s current policy, the judge stated in his order that “there is no real question that the focused evaluation was directly spurred by concerns from patrons and county officials concerning the contents of these titles.”
“And, notably, there is no evidence that any of the books were slated to be reviewed for weeding prior to the receipt of these complaints; to the contrary, many other books eligible for weeding based on the same factors appear to have remained on the shelves for many years,” he said.
Several novels were the object of complaints from community organizations, which they referred to as “pornographic trash” because they encouraged “acceptance of LGBTQ beliefs,” according to the ruling. The directive stated that these publications, as well as others deemed “pornographic” and discussing “‘critical race theory’ and associated racial issues,” were taken out of the libraries.
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Community member Bonnie Wallace, who was subsequently elected to the library board, made the suggestion that “all the pastors get engaged in this” in one email. Maybe they might arrange a regular prayer vigil for this topic. May God keep our kids from being exposed to this filth.
The order stated that the county commissioners also decided to abolish the library board and replace it with a new “Library Advisory Board” made up of several individuals of Llano County, including Wallace, who pushed for the book deletions.
The directive of, new board forbade staff librarians from attending meetings and mandated that all new books “be presented to and approved” by them prior to acquisition.
Book Restrictions “Suppress” LGBTQ And Minority Voices
A Florida school district stopped library purchases, dozens of books have been pulled from shelves in Texas, new policies extending oversight of books are being drafted or have already been passed in several states, and an Oklahoma teacher resigned due to the censorship of books in classroom libraries.
Anonymous Operations Legion tweeted that Texas public libraries due to LGBTQ and racial content must be returned within 24 hours. You can see below:
US District Judge Robert Pitman has ordered that books removed from Texas public libraries due to LGBTQ and racial content must be returned within 24 hours. This is a Win for freedom of expression and speech. pic.twitter.com/U9ItkBZwrZ
— Anonymous Operations Legion (@IAmAnonLegion) April 2, 2023
March news release from the American Library Association (ALA), attempts to censor library books hit an all-time high in 2022. This is the first time since the ALA started collecting data on book censorship more than 20 years ago that this has happened. 1,269 attempts were logged by ALA in 2022, more than twice as many as there were in 2021.
“A book challenge is a demand to remove a book from a library’s collection so that no one else can read it,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said in a statement. “Their aim is to suppress the voices of those traditionally excluded from our nation’s conversations, such as people in the LGBTQIA+ community or people of color.”
Schools are among those where book bans have been primarily targeted. In 2022, Texas led the country with the most book bans – 713 – affecting 16 school districts, followed by Pennsylvania and Florida with 456 and 204 bans, respectively, according to an analysis by PEN America, a literary and free expression advocacy organization.
“Each attempt to ban a book by one of these groups represents a direct attack on every person’s constitutionally protected right to freely choose what books to read and what ideas to explore,” Caldwell-Stone said. “The choice of what to read must be left to the reader or, in the case of children, to parents. That choice does not belong to self-appointed book police.”
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