Forget the elusive “Wyoming way” of solving conflicts. Campbell County officials have opted instead for a new battle cry in their war on library books with any sexual content that could be read by minors: “In Florida we trust.”


How else are residents supposed to interpret why the Campbell County Public Library Board is suddenly taking policy recommendations from the Liberty Counsel? This Orlando-based litigation factory operates all over the country with a mission to protect religious liberty, the “sanctity of human life” and Christian families.

The Liberty Counsel is not affiliated with Moms for Liberty, another Florida-based organization that has led protests of libraries with LGBTQ-themed books on their shelves. But both have been designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In 2021, Campbell County was the state epicenter for religious-right complaints about “pornography” available in the public library. More than two dozen books were challenged, including some that the complainants never bothered to read. Thankfully, the five-person board refused to remove them from the teen section.

Mass Resistance, a group opposing the board’s decisions, formed shortly after. At least two members went to the county sheriff, charging that the library violated state child pornography laws. It was such a divisive local issue, the case was referred to the Weston County attorney, who wisely declined to press charges.

That really got far-right members mad. They’ve worked for nearly two years to make sure library patrons can’t access materials they find objectionable, finally succeeding at a library board meeting earlier this month.

It’s been a bumpy road. Anger over library policies has sparked similar divisive debates around the state, but the issue still draws by far the most heat in Campbell County.

The Liberty Counsel offered free legal advice to the Campbell County Public Library Board, which recently amended its book collection policy after months of debate. The Liberty Counsel recommended a new section of the policy titled, “Protecting Children From Harmful, Sexually Explicit Material in Areas Designated for Minors,” according to reports

This addition makes it the library director’s job to ensure no materials added to the children or teen sections violate the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act by containing “any picture, photograph, drawing, sculpture, motion picture film, videocassette, or other visual representation of a person or portion of the human body which depicts nudity or sexual conduct, sexual excitement, sexual battery, bestiality, or sadomasochistic abuse.”

There are at least two flaws in that new policy. 

First, CIPA only applies to schools and libraries that receive federal funds for discounted internet rates. It does not apply to books, as noted by board member Charlie Anderson, who joined Darcie Lyon in voting against the policy that passed, 3-2. 

Board Chair Sage Bear — wife of Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. John Bear (R-Gillette) — said the Liberty Counsel assured her it does apply in both instances. But if someone disagrees, the Liberty Counsel will defend the policy in court for free. Since it created the problem, that’s the least the group could do, but it would still be a monumental waste of the county’s time.

The second factor is the massive workload the board just dumped on Library Director Terri Lesley, who is now responsible for screening every new addition to the collection. It’s an impossible task, as Lesley told the board at a March public meeting.

“How am I supposed to do this?” the librarian asked. “I can’t read every book. How can I guarantee these things [in the policy]?”

Board member Charlotte Collier suggested ordering fewer books. What a novel (pun intended) idea. I’m sure kids won’t mind if their new reading choices diminish before they are censored and moved to another section, where they won’t have access to them.

Throughout the review process, Bear maintained the new policy has ‘nothing to do with LGBTQ.’ She’s apparently wearing blinders when she views her friends at the Liberty Counsel.

The Liberty Counsel hasn’t spent much time wading into the fight against “child sexualization.” It’s generally been concerned with other culture war issues, like upholding the rights of abortion protesters, representing county clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and fighting local governments’ COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates

The group has targeted government entities that refuse to display the 10 Commandments and communities that pass LGBTQ anti-discrimination ordinances.

Not surprisingly, the Liberty Counsel unsuccessfully sued over voters’ claims the 2020 presidential election was rigged and the constitutionality of portions of the Affordable Care Act.

The organization has taken on at least one library, though. In 2000 it threatened to sue a Jacksonville, Florida, library because staff handed out certificates from the mythical “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” in honor of a new Harry Potter book release.

“Witchcraft is a religion and the certificate of witchcraft endorsed a particular religion in violation of the First Amendment Establishment Clause,” said Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver said in a news release. 

Throughout the review process, Bear maintained the new policy has “nothing to do with LGBTQ.” She’s apparently wearing blinders when she views her friends at the Liberty Counsel, which routinely attacks the LGBTQ community and never holds back.

In 2015, when the Boy Scouts of America voted to end its decades-long ban on gay scout leaders, Staver warned: “You are going to have all kinds of sexual molestation. This is a playground for pedophiles to go and have all these boys as objects of their lust.” 

Meanwhile, the board initiated a survey of the Campbell County library staff in March. Gillette News Record reporter Jonathan Gallardo’s article about the results makes it clear some on the board weren’t expecting the overwhelmingly negative response.

Some 93% said they do not believe the board supports the library’s staff and is focused on its own agenda.

“They allow patrons to speak in public comments calling us ‘groomers,’ ‘pedophiles’ and other horrible names,” one employee wrote. “But when they feel one of their own has been targeted, they are quick to defend their friends and take away a supporter’s chance to talk in public.”

Collier, the board member who suggested buying fewer books, said employees “didn’t see the intent of the survey, and they didn’t answer the questions the way I hoped.” No kidding.

Two county commissioners were also upset by library staff’s honest responses to the survey, especially the critique that the county commission hand-selected three new library board members — Bear, Collier and Charles Butler — specifically because they would reverse the board’s 2021 decision to not censor books in the child and teen sections.

“I think it sheds a bad light on everybody involved,” Commissioner Del Shelstad told the News Record. “Reading through some of those comments … somebody’s got a real ax to grind, it’s really obvious.”

Commission Chair Colleen Faber said the “inflammatory remarks” reflect on the character of the people who submitted them. 

I disagree. The remarks reflect far more negatively on the character of officials who refuse to listen. For local library staff, this isn’t about grinding axes. It’s about ending an obviously hostile work environment fostered by officials who are more interested in the ax grinding of the Florida-based Liberty Counsel than how their neighbors who work at the library are treated.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. This hit piece is aimed not at Florida but at Liberty Counsel. So why the headline and “Florida-based” tags? Mr Drake is worried about the prospect of President DeSantis, so Florida must be “dysfunctional.” Why not refer to the utterly corrupt SPLC as “Alabama-based?”

    1. I love the attempts to disparage and criticize the SPLC. It still doesn’t justify why the right wing fringe choose to support recognized hate groups.

        1. Guidestar, human rights campaign, and various judges who ruled against the liberty counsel in their legal attempts to dodge their hate group status.

          So again, why do you support a recognized hate group?

  2. Anyone who disagrees with Southern Poverty Law Center automatically gets hate group status by them. Anyone who uses them as a reliable source probably is not necessarily practicing great journalism.

  3. I, for one, hate the idea of banning books in libraries, any library. That is the taking away of our freedom to choose. Those people are just fueling their own agendas to take books they find offensive and not asking anyone else’s opinion. We certainly don’t need any help from Florida about how to run our schools, libraries, or state. Desantis is wanting to be the next dictator after tRump.

  4. “any picture, photograph, drawing, sculpture, motion picture film, videocassette, or other visual representation of a person or portion of the human body which depicts nudity or sexual conduct, sexual excitement, sexual battery, bestiality, or sadomasochistic abuse.”

    Does this include Michelangelo’s sculpture of David? Sadly it is hard to recognize the Wyoming I grew up in.

  5. Why is this country wasting valuable time on a non topic. I hope all those school board members and the liberty Council member don’t let their kids have cell phones or internet. There is more porn on the internet than in all the books combined in every library across the country.

    A comedian I was watching called it porn in your pocket.

    1. Ain’t that the truth! And some local politician wannabe here in Natrona County claiming some school (which he wouldn’t name) had a run of Playboy on their shelves. Playboy, which no longer exists in print thanks to the Internet, and whose online content is now considered “softcore”.

  6. That a group of people who have no background in Education or Library Science are being allowed to dictate the policy and collection of a library is sad and pathetic. This “Liberty” group made sure any mention of the American Library Association, who supports the freedom to read, was eradicated from the new CCPL policy statement. While they took advice from the Liberty Counsel, they did not request feedback from faculty at either of the nearby MLIS programs (Masters in Library Science and Information) – the U of MN or the U of Denver. Those individuals would have actually been able to explain that librarians are experienced professionals, and the process which librarians go through in selecting books before they are added to a library’s collection. Not that it would have made any difference to those blockheads, but……..

  7. As a former public/school librarian (one of the two in the state) for 26 years I had experienced some censorship from two principles during that tenure which I resisted. There are some people who fear that students will learn about issues that they should remain ignorant about: sexual orientation, U.S. belligerent foreign policy history, the police state and the agencies of government responsible, predictable anthropogenic caused environmental disasters coming our way, U.S. history that is not complimentary on so many issues, etc. Ignorance is not bliss and we all suffer from the desire to remain numb to the demands imposed on us to solve problems before they happen and during.

  8. Are they banning “Fahrenheit 451” so the public will not learn about their philosophy?