Seven residents of Llano County, Texas, are suing the county, alleging that their First and 14th Amendment rights were violated when books deemed offensive by some members of the community and Republican legislators were removed from public libraries or access was restricted.
This 21,000-person county in the Texas Hill Country is now one of a growing number of communities across the United States where conservative groups and individuals have pushed to restrict access to books that deal with race, gender, or sexuality.
The lawsuit claims that county officials took books off the shelves of the three-branch public library system “because they disagree with the ideas within them” and cut off access to thousands of digital books because they couldn’t ban two specific titles.
Co-defendants in the case include Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham, county commissioners Jerry Don Moss, Peter Jones, and Linda Raschke; library system director Amber Milum; and four members of the Llano County library board, Bonnie Wallace, Rochelle Wells, Rhonda Schneider, and Gay Baskin.
In the lawsuit, Leila Green Little, a Llano County mother, and the other six plaintiffs claim that county officials removed several children’s books last August after a group of community members complained that they were inappropriate. “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak and “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie H. Harris are two of the books on the list.
Months later, Texas Rep. Matt Krause launched an investigation into whether 850 books on race or sex in public school libraries and classrooms could “make students feel uncomfortable.” Wallace eventually sent a spreadsheet with the books from that list that were available in the Llano County library’s collection, according to the lawsuit.
Wallace, in an email to Cunningham and others, asked “All pastors are encouraged to participate. Perhaps they could hold a weekly prayer vigil on this subject…. May God keep our children safe from this EVIL,” according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, the county halted e-book access because it “could not remove two Krause List books that offended their politics and personal sensibilities,” dissolved its existing library board and replaced it with Wallace and others who pushed for book removals, and closed advisory board meetings to the public.
Green Little, one of the residents who filed the lawsuit, previously told CNN that her anti-censorship group went to county meetings, wrote letters to officials, and requested public records to “stop the censorship.”
The lawsuit seeks an injunction “to end Defendants’ efforts to monopolize the marketplace of ideas, and to ensure that there will once again be ‘the fullest practicable provision of material presenting all points of view concerning the problems and issues of our times,’ for all Llano County library patrons,” in addition to attorneys’ fees and a court order declaring that the defendants violated their constitutional rights.
The Texas Library Association’s executive director, Shirley Robinson, expressed hope that the lawsuit will encourage people in other communities to speak up.
From July 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022, 1,145 books were banned in communities across the United States, according to PEN America, a literary and free expression advocacy organization. The majority of the bans involved deviations from the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and the American Library Association’s best practices for challenging books and instructional materials in schools and libraries, according to the group.
The lawsuit in Llano County, according to Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program, could have a significant impact on the current climate and serve as a reminder of people’s constitutional rights across the country.