Three Louisiana library board members who were removed by a parish council in May, two years after a controversy erupted over LGBTQ book content, have filed a lawsuit in federal court to keep their positions.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana by William “Bill” McHugh III, a retired software developer, Rebecca Taylor, the former board president and a retired librarian, and Anthony Parr, the board’s secretary/treasurer and a former special education teacher.

McHugh and Parr had been appointed in 2023 and Taylor in 2022 to serve on the St. Tammany Library Board of Control. But in a twist, a recently elected council member, David Cougle, (who is a defendant in the federal lawsuit) argued that McHugh and Parr's positions needed to be reappointed to stagger their terms in compliance with a state statute. When it came time to reappoint, the council instead chose conservative replacements.

The ousted board members are suing St. Tammany Parish and Cougle, claiming they are victims of a “smear campaign that vilified them, sought, and achieved their ouster.” The suit also alleges hat the defendants retaliated against the plaintiffs for exercising their First Amendment rights and discriminated against them for the content and viewpoint of their speech by terminating their appointments. They also maintain they were denied substantive due process, insisting they were terminated based on false charges and without a “name clearing” hearing or process.

The controversy dates back to June 2022, when three of the parish’s 12 library branches featured displays announcing Pride Month. According to the suit, this prompted complaints, including one that claimed St. Tammany is a “mostly conservative community” and warned, “the voters will remember.”

In August 2022, Cougle co-founded the Saint Tammany Library Accountability Project (STLAP). The suit says co-founder Connie Phillips lodged as many as 150 complaints targeting specific books, including Gender Queer, I am Jazz. At a 2022 library board meeting at the Slidell branch, the suit also claims, Cougle accused board members of “approving pornographic and pedophilic materials targeting young children” and compared them to “sexual predators.”

St. Tammany Parish Library Executive Director Kelly LaRocca, however, said the parish’s libraries contained no pornographic or obscene materials.

In October 2023, Cougle was elected to the parish council after vowing to “do everything in my power to solve the library crisis.”

Once in office, Cougle questioned whether state statute required that library board members serve staggered terms and called for the council to declare existing members’ terms expired and nominate new candidates for a staggered term immediately. Ultimately, the council voted for candidates to fill six seats. Five seats were filled by candidates recommended in an ad in the Slidell Independent paid for by Citizens for Common Sense Solutions, which warned against appointing “three far-left or liberal board members."