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National anti-censorship groups call for reversal of Prattville Library policies

The groups called the new policy discriminatory and urged the Prattville Library to uphold the freedom to read.

Lettering on the outside of the Prattville Public Library against a brick wall.
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PEN America, the National Coalition of Censorship, Read Freely Alabama, and EveryLibrary Tuesday called on the Autauga-Prattville Library board to reverse its new policy prohibiting all children’s and young adult books related to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and relevant issues.

The groups called the new policy discriminatory and urged the Prattville Library to uphold the freedom to read for all its patrons.

On February 8, the library 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.” Adult books that include those themes must be labeled with a red sticker.

“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. And to stigmatize adult books that include sex or LGBTQ+ identities and themes gives lie to the idea that this is about protecting children. The library is for everyone – when access to books is prevented based on a narrow ideology, everyone loses.”

“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,” said Lee Rowland, executive director, National Coalition Against Censorship. “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.”

A board member has resigned in protest, saying the board was engaging in censorship. Four of the previous board members resigned last year after the county appointed new members without consultation with the current board. The county received 48 challenges last year to books in the collection, primarily with LGBTQ+ characters or themes.

Read Freely Alabama, a volunteer group of citizens that started in Prattville fighting these restrictions and censorship across Alabama, stated they would continue to advocate for all Prattville residents to be represented in their library regardless of political and ideological affiliation.

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“From day one, Alabamians in the most rural, red counties have fought back against these ideological extremists trying to censor our libraries. 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,” said the senior leadership team at Read Freely Alabama. “Prattville is ground zero for censorship in Alabama and continues to be an example of extremism run amok. But we will continue fighting.” 

Prattville residents including Read Freely members expressed their outrage Tuesday to the Autauga County Commission, and shared their concern with the Prattville City Council.

“I came here today to look you each in the eye as a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, Lawson told the Commission. “You may think that the bigoted, religious extremists that YOU placed on the library board, with plans to erase people like me from our public library and our community have won, but quite the opposite is true.

“You put Ray Boles, Doug Darr, Logan Strock and Rachel Daniels, all known members of and sympathizers of Clean Up Alabama, on our library board to do the dirty work that none of you want to dirty your hands with – open discrimination against LGBTQ+ persons like me.”

A few residents thanked the county for appointing the board members to make the policy changes.

Prattville resident David Givens said he was “shocked that a common sense policy could (originally) not be reached to restrict inappropriate or controversial material for children.”

Christiana Garner, who leads Read Freely’s Prattville chapter, informed the governments about a 220-page ethics complaint she has filed against Ray Boles and the library board for violations of the Open Meetings Act.

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Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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