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.
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 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.