A group of Llano County, Texas, library supporters have filed suit against county officials in federal court arguing that a series of book bans and other actions at the library violates their constitutional rights.
“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,” reads the federal complaint, filed on April 25 in the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division. “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 suit was brought by a group of individual plaintiffs who, according to court filings, "differ in their ages, professions, and individual religious and political beliefs" but are "fiercely united in their love for reading public library books and in their belief that the government cannot dictate which books they can and cannot read."
The suit alleges that county officials have been “systematically removing award-winning books from library shelves because they disagree with the ideas within them.” In addition, the suit alleges that the library board also terminated access to the libraries' OverDrive account, which offered access to more than 17,000 digital books, because county officials could not pick and choose titles available to county residents. The suit also claims that county officials wrongly fired a librarian who refused to remove banned books from the library shelves.
Furthermore, the suit claims the county dissolved the existing library board and "packed" a newly appointed board with "political appointees" supportive of the county's book banning efforts. The suit claims that the new library board has since ordered that "all new books must be presented to and pre-approved by the New Library Board before they can be purchased or placed on library shelves." The public has also since been denied access to library board meetings, the complaint states, in violation of the law.
“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 suit argues. “The right to publish and receive ideas—even politically unpopular ideas or ones that some find offensive or distasteful—is enshrined in our Constitution. As the Supreme Court has said, “freedom of thought and speech ‘is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom.’”
The suit rejects county officials’ public claims that the books and materials ordered to be removed were “pornographic,” which is a “pretext,” the suit claims.
“None of the books Defendants have targeted is pornographic," the complaint states. "Many of these books have received prestigious literary awards and national acclaim, and many involve contemporary political issues. Such books include, for example, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson; They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and Spinning by Eisner Award winner Tillie Walden. Privately, Defendants have admitted that they are banning books because they disagree with their political viewpoints and dislike their subject matter.”
The suit asks for declaratory relief stating that Defendants have violated Plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and for injunctive relief.
"Even books that are not nationally acclaimed should not be banned because of their content or viewpoint," the complaint argues. "Unfortunately, Defendants have done just that—prescribed which public library books Llano County residents can and cannot read
based on the viewpoints and ideas contained within those books."