Despite a number of high-profile legal victories for freedom to read advocates in recent months, book bans continue to surge—and this week, a host of anti-censorship and library groups are blasting a move by the board of the Autauga-Prattville Public Library in Alabama to effectively bar the library from purchasing books for minors that contain LGBTQ content.

In a February 20 joint statement, PEN America, the National Coalition Against Censorship, Read Freely Alabama, and EveryLibrary called on the Autauga-Prattville Library Board to reverse its controversial new policy. “The Autauga-Prattville Public Library’s newly appointed board is making a mockery of freedom of expression,” said Kasey Meehan, Freedom to Read program director at PEN America. “We are alarmed to see the suppression of LGBTQ+ books within the library system, especially for young people who rely on the library’s free access to books to understand themselves and the world around them.”

The statement comes after the library’s board, on February 8, enacted a new policy suspending the purchase of any children’s literature or young adult books that include “obscenity, sexual conduct, sexual intercourse, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender discordance.” Furthermore, the board passed a new rule requiring that adult books that include those themes be labeled with a red sticker—a move that opponents say will serve to “stigmatize” readers of adult books that include sex or LGBTQ+ identities.

In a statement, Read Freely Alabama, a citizen advocacy group that has been on the front lines battling book bans across the state, noted that the state’s book banning battles began in Prattville, calling it “ground zero for censorship in Alabama” and another example of “extremism run amok.” The group said that it would continue to advocate for all Prattville residents to be represented in their library regardless of political and ideological affiliation.

“From day one, Alabamians in the most rural, red counties have fought back against these ideological extremists trying to censor our libraries,” the group said, in a release this week. “Many of us grew up poor, in marginalized communities and secretly closeted in these very towns, with the public library as the only way we could access books for free.”

The Autauga-Prattville Public Library’s newly appointed board is making a mockery of freedom of expression.

EveryLibrary, meanwhile, is hosting a petition, "STOP Book Bans at Autauga-Prattville Library," by the local Prattville Library Alliance on its Fight for the First digital advocacy platform focused at the library board. Freedom to read advocates can share the opinions and stories via the petition.

The Autauga-Prattville Public Library’s move to bar the library's acquisition of LGBTQ-themed books for minors has drawn national media attention, and is another sign that the years-long, ongoing battle by right wing groups to ban books in schools and libraries is not receding. The move in Prattville comes after Alabama Governor Kay Ivey threatened to cut funding to public libraries over allegedly inappropriate materials in libraries last fall, and a month after the Alabama Public Library Service officially voted to disassociate from the American Library Association.

The question now: will there be litigation? In a statement, National Coalition Against Censorship executive director Lee Rowland suggested that there was a case to be made.

“Prattville's efforts to narrow its library collections are not just a tragic loss for the community and the freedom to read—they are also discriminatory and unconstitutional,” Rowland said. “Other recent efforts to scrub libraries of valuable content that grapples with sex and gender have rightly been judged as sweeping violations of the First Amendment, and Prattville's assault on the right to read should fare no differently.”