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Texas appeals court rules libraries can’t remove books for disagreeable viewpoints

There are key differences between this case and a federal lawsuit currently facing the Autauga-Prattville Public Library.

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The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld an injunction against a public library that had removed books about “butts and farts” after receiving complaints from a patron and county judge.

An injunction issued by the district court ruled that the Llano County library must return to shelves 17 books that had been removed apparently due to disagreement by government actors’ with the materials’ content.

In August 2021, Llano resident Rochelle Wells, together with Eva Carter and Jo Ares, complained to Cunningham about ‘pornographic and overtly sexual books in the library’s children’s section,'” recounted Judge Jacques Weiner in the majority opinion. “They were specifically concerned with several books about ‘butts and farts.’ Wells had been checking out those books continuously for months to prevent others from accessing them.”

The court found that while “librarians may consider books’ contents in making curation decisions … their discretion, however, must be balanced against patrons’ First Amendment rights … (including) ‘the right to receive information and ideas.’

“This right is violated when an official who removes a book is ‘substantially motivated’ by the desire to deny ‘access to ideas with which [they] disagree[],'” Weiner wrote.

There are key differences between this case and a federal lawsuit currently facing the Autauga-Prattville Public Library, but there are some similarities as well as answers to arguments likely to arise in litigation.

The Prattville library policies have supposedly not resulted in any books being removed from circulation; however, more than 60 books have been pulled from shelves and off of the catalog while “under review” with no information about when those books may be returned to the catalog or shelves.

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The case in Llano has played out similarly, with the books initially being removed, and then being returned but not listed in the catalog or accessible on shelves. The court found that this does not amount to proper access to those books.

The court also dismissed any argument of government speech coming into play as a public library, an argument that APPL attorney Laura Clark has suggested as grounds to defend the library’s actions.The court did agree that libraries may not constitute a public forum where authors have a right for their books to be curated, but said patrons have a right to not have access to materials blocked due to government officials disagreeing with their content.

The ruling cites the Supreme Court’s Island Trees ruling that decreed school libraries could not remove books simply due to objecting to their content, as well as two other cases that helped to shape their decision.

The books challenged in Llano were not only about butts and farts—books were also targeted for themes of gender dysphoria and discussing racism.

The lawsuit in Prattville is currently delayed due to potential policy changes to be made by the APPL library board in the next two weeks. 

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

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