ACLU, ALA, & More Join CBLDF in Fight for First Amendment in Texas

July 19, 2019
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Lilah Sturges WonderConThursday letters arrived in Leander, Texas from local and national organization all clamoring for the city council to respect their commitment to the First Amendment. CBLDF was among the first to raise the alarm after an event with renowned comics author Lilah Sturges was abruptly canceled just two hours before the event, blaming new temporary policies, but many felt that the real reason was the fact that Sturges is transgender, given the insufficient explanations from the city. According to Hill County News, the Leander city council has voted to table any changes to library policy, but no word yet as to if or when the event with Sturges will be rescheduled. To read more about the controversy surrounding the sudden cancellation and the previous attempts to stifle LGBTQ+ events, go to http://cbldf.org/2019/07/reschedule-lumberjanes/

According to Hill County News, at the Leander city council meeting Thursday night, spokesperson for Leander, Mike Neu spoke about canceling the event the library had planned with Sturges for her to discuss her work on popular comic Lumberjanes: 

“It certainly isn’t our intention to discriminate against any viewpoints,” said Leander public spokesperson Mike Neu.

Neu said there had been communication issues between city staff and library staff regarding the recent cancellations, and those communication issues resulted in the cancellation of noted comic author Lilah Sturges’ presentation last week.

“We failed to have the discussion with library staff about what the nature of some the events involved,” Neu said. “It wasn’t brought up initially as one of the events we were considering, so it was an issue that we felt needed to be addressed immediately as soon as we learned about it.”

This was not the city’s first attempt to silence inclusive library programming. CBLDF with the Kids’ Right to Read Project, sent a letter demanding the event be reinstated. From that letter:

Since adopting temporary event policy, Sturges is the only guest speaker to be denied access to the library. Several youth events have been held in meeting rooms without city official review, including a Mad Science children’s event during the week Sturges was scheduled to speak. Guest speakers unaffiliated with the library, like REPCO Wildlife, have since been allowed access to library spaces and young patrons without background checks or prior city approval. This capricious application of expanded restrictions strongly suggests a bias against Sturges’s gender identity and a gross violation of First Amendment principles. (Check out the full letter here)

Hill County News reported that other letters had also been received specifically addressing the proposed changes in library policy that caused the Sturges event to be canceled. ACLU and the Texas Association of Libraries were both among those who wrote in demanding the city to respect the commitment to the First Amendment that libraries have. Some of the proposed changes included charging people hosting the events for any cost to the city’s police for protesters and/or security.

The ACLU writes:

To the extent the City Council considers these new rules necessary to ensure that all library facilities remain safe and accessible to every Leander resident in light of recent protests, the proposed policy changes could have the opposite effect. By allowing the imposition of security costs on event organizers, the City Council inadvertently provides a mechanism for opposition groups to censor speech by inflicting monetary harm on organizers they dislike. For example, if someone believes that the Harry Potter books promote witchcraft, then that person could organize protests of the library’s Harry Potter Week starting July 29th and force library patrons who enjoy Harry Potter to cover the costs of police. Or if someone is angry that a Christian book club is reading the Bible in a library meeting room, then that person could organize a rally to protest the book club while forcing the book club to pay the bill.3 Such unintended consequences underscore the reason that freedom of speech must be protected evenhandedly. As the Supreme Court reminds us, “[T]he freedoms of speech, press, petition and assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment must be accorded to the ideas we hate or sooner or later they will be denied to the ideas we cherish.” Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169, 188 (1972). (Check out the full letter here) 

Tabling these proposed changes is a start, but it is not the same as dismissing them entirely, and it does nothing to address the discrimination that Sturges already faced. If you’re interested in having the event rescheduled, or supporting inclusive libraries events in Leander, Texas – consider tweeting @CityofLeander and @LeanderPL and calling for an immediate rescheduling of the Lumberjanes event. Use the hashtag #LeanderLumberjanes to show your support, after all, there’s a lot that can be learned about acceptance from those amazing comics.

 

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