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Republicans Decide Banning Books Too Slow, Now Banning Libraries Instead
OK, defunding them, but why not dream big?
In an ominous sign that Republican culture warring shows little sign of slowing down, rightwing politicians in Missouri and Texas have decided they're not satisfied with simply banning books that they fear might turn children gay — a thing that doesn't happen anyway — but would instead prefer to just get rid of public libraries altogether, by defunding them.
In Texas, the commissioners of Llano County tried banning 17 books last year, but seven parents in the county sued, so two weeks ago a federal judge ordered the books be returned to the county library system's shelves. That tyrannical overreach of the First Amendment didn't sit well with the county commission, which meets today to vote on whether to simply shut down the entire library system rather than let anyone ever be exposed to those evil books.
And in Missouri, the state House of Representatives has now followed through on threats it made last month to eliminate all $4.5 million in funding for the state's libraries, because some Republicans are mad that librarians sued against a censorship law Republicans passed last year. Last week, the House passed a state budget that zeroes out all funding for libraries ; all that remains is a third reading of the budget before the House version is final. Republicans in the state Senate said — before the House voted — that they intend to restore the library funding, so that could get mighty interesting as the budget process moves forward.
Texas: No History, No LGBTQ, No Sex Ed, Also No Fart Jokes
The county commissioners of Llano County will meet this afternoon to consider closing all three branches of the county library system rather than comply with a federal court order to reinstate 17 books the commissioners removed last year. The books were back on shelves within 24 hours of the order, as required — but then the next day all of them were checked out.
Among the titles they pulled — without any public notice or appeals process — were works on race and history, like Isabella Wilkerson's bestselling Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents ,and a title for teens, They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group , by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. It's not clear why; possibly because, by including slave narratives, congressional testimony, and graphic depictions of Klan attacks on free Blacks and sympathizers, it fails to depict white Southerners as noble heroes.
Other works covered scary LGBTQ topics, like Jazz Jennings's memoir Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen and that notorious and inclusive sex education book with tiny cartoon genitals, Robbie H. Harris's It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health . Plus the usual assortment of YA novels that have too much gay.
Bizarrely, the county commissioners seem willing to let the libraries die on the hill of protecting children from silly books about farts and butts, like Dawn McMillan's I Need a New Butt! and related butt titles, as well as a Fart Tetralogy by Jane Bexley: 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 . (These, we'll add, are only part of Bexley's fart oeuvre.)
Closing the libraries may have been the commissioners' plan even before the federal court ruling, according to text messages turned up in discovery during the lawsuit. A member of the library advisory board praised the county executive, Judge Ron Cunningham, in a message to a censorship supporter, writing,
"Llano County leaders are amazing! The judge has said, if we lose the injunction, he will close the library because he will not put the porn back into the kid’s section! Very Courageous! Keep praying!"
None of the books, we should add, are pornographic, a word that has an actual legal meaning that tiny cartoon genitals do not meet.
At an April 10 public meeting Monday, one resident urged the commissioners to "aggressively pursue" an appeal of the ruling, while another called for the libraries to be shut down , rather than continuing the cost the court case:
“I don’t think we even have to fool with it anymore,” she said. “Let the city (of Llano) have it. Let them have the taxes. I don’t like that my taxes have had to go to all of this fighting. I don’t like that everybody has been torn up. This town has literally been torn up over it. We’re sideways. Just move on. I don’t understand why we have to battle such an unbelievable thing. If they insist on having (the books), and if we don’t win again, then just close down.”
Both comments were followed by applause from many of the people in the crowded justice of the peace courtroom[.]
The county commissioners meet at 4 Eastern today; we'll keep you updated.
Missouri: Libraries Ejected From State Budget
As we discussed a couple weeks back , Republicans in Missouri's House of Representatives are super angry at the state's library professionals, because the librarians dared to sue over a censorship law Republicans crammed through last year. The law banned all "sexually explicit" visual media from school libraries, in any medium, with an exception to allow "educational materials" including fine art, sex ed, anatomy, and biology. So probably yes to It's Perfectly Natural, but absolutely no to Gender Queer , where the tiny cartoon genitals aren't shown in as much tiny cartoon detail, but there's a plot about the author discovering they're asexual and nonbinary, how horrifying. Or maybe it's horrifying that Missouri won't ban the sex ed book like those decent porn-fighters in Texas did.
The ACLU, representing the Missouri Association of School Librarians and the Missouri Library Association on a pro bono basis, is suing to have the law overturned on First Amendment grounds, or at least to get a judicial ruling so school librarians won't go to jail for a year or face a $2,000 fine for letting a minor access library materials that are legal in sane states. Following the law's passage, schools purged hundreds of titles, many by LGBTQ+ authors or people of color, just to be on the safe side. Other titles that got the axe were graphic novels, including Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead series (not even remotely porn, but cusses) and even a graphic novelization of George Orwell's 1984, to meet the dark irony quota.
The lawsuit angered the chair of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Cody Smith, who flat out lied and accused librarians of using taxpayer funds for the lawsuit, despite the whole "pro bono" thing. Smith also was mad that librarians — public employees who should know who's the boss of them — were "seeking to overturn that law that was unanimously supported by the House," and how dare they?
For all the good it might have done, the Missouri Library Association took to Twitter to point out that Missouri's constitution actually mandates library funding, and there the librarians go acting like they know the law better than the people making it. The MLA also noted that the burden of defunding the libraries would fall hardest on the state's "smaller, more rural libraries," which Smith might say is just as well since Good Country People are still pissed at how that snooty Flannery O'Connor depicted them, and they don't need books anyway.
Beyond zeroing out the library funding, House Republicans also cut other programs, like diversity initiatives, childcare funding, and pre-K education, because they could. In total, the House budget is $2 billion less than requested by Gov. Mike Parson, although Democrats point out that the state is actually running a substantial surplus this year.
Republicans in the Missouri Senate have pledged to restore the library funding; Appropriations Committee chair Sen. Lincoln Hough told the St Louis Post-Dispatch last week, "There is no way that money is not going back into the budget." What exactly will happen if the House and Senate budgets differ only on library funding is anyone's guess.
We'll close with the thoughts of America's most authoritative voice on books , former "Reading Rainbow" host LeVar Burton, who tweeted, in response to the news from Missouri, "Good morning, to everyone… except Missouri House Republicans. This bullshit has to stop!!!
“Good morning, to everyone… except Missouri House Republicans. This bullshit has to stop!!! https: //t.co/vR8a3Bnkdr”
— LeVar Burton (@LeVar Burton) 1681307663
So say we all! Whoops, wrong space opera.
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