July 24, 2024

A small Texas county is weighing whether to shut down its public library system after a federal judge ruled the commissioners violated the constitution by banning a dozen mostly children’s books and ordered that they be put back in circulation.

The Llano County commissioners have scheduled for Thursday a special meeting in which the first item on the agenda is whether to “continue or cease operations” at the library.

Leila Green Little, one of the seven local residents who successfully sued the county for banning the books, fired off an email Monday urging county residents to attend the special meeting and give the commissioners an earful.

“We may not get another opportunity to save our library system and, more importantly, the public servants who work there,” Little wrote. 

In the message, Little also included a screenshot of a text message that Bonnie Wallace, who is vice chairman of the Llano County Library Advisory Board, sent to one of her supporters. It was obtained by the seven residents as part of the discovery for the civil suit they filed against the county on April 25, 2022.

It read, in part, “the judge has said, if we lose the injunction, he will CLOSE the library because he WILL NOT put the porn back in the kid’s section!”

Wallace, who did not return a call for comment from NBC News, was referring to Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham, according to Little. The judge also did not return a call from NBC News. It was not immediately clear what books Wallace was describing as “porn.”

The books that Llano County officials removed from the library shelves include Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”; “They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti; the graphic novel “Spinning” by Tillie Walden; and three books from Dawn McMillan’s “I Need a New Butt!” series.

Last year, an assistant principal at a Mississippi elementary school was fired after he read “I Need a New Butt!” to a second-grade class. The reason? Because the book used words like “butt” and “fart” and included cartoon images of a child’s butt. 

Also removed from the library were Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen”; Robie H. Harris’ “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health”; and four other children’s picture books with “silly themes and rhymes,” like “Larry the Farting Leprechaun,” “Gary the Goose and His Gas on the Loose”; “Freddie the Farting Snowman” and “Harvey the Heart Has Too Many Farts,” according to the complaint.

The Llano County emergency meeting was called after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman ruled last week in favor of the seven local residents who sued Cunningham, Wallace, the Llano County commissioners, and the other library board members for removing the books.

“Defendants claim to be on a hunt to eradicate ‘pornographic’ materials,” the residents said in their complaint. “This is a pretext; none of the books Defendants have targeted is pornographic.”

The residents contended their First Amendment rights to free speech were violated and their 14th Amendment right to due process was violated because the books were removed without notice or ability to appeal.

The judge agreed.

The plaintiffs “clearly met their burden to show that these are content-based restrictions that are unlikely to pass constitutional muster,” Pitman wrote in an opinion filed Thursday.

“The evidence demonstrates that, without an injunction, defendants will continue to make access to the subject books difficult or impossible,” Pitman wrote, referring to the Llano county officials.

But it was not a complete victory for the seven residents. Pitman dismissed a part of the suit that asked that county officials reinstate the library’s previous system for e-book access, which gave them access to 17,000 books online.

Conservative parents across the country have been pushing schools and public libraries to shut down digital programs that allow students to download and read books on their smartphones, tablets and laptops, NBC News reported last year