COMMENTARY: Library Board’s Censorship Crusade Needs to End
The Lafayette Public Library Board of Control has a full agenda for its Monday meeting.
The full board will consider banning a movie currently in the library's circulation that’s been challenged by a patron from Vermilion Parish. That DVD, Scotty and the Secret Life of Hollywood, is a documentary about a pimp who procured sexual partners for gay actors and actresses. Last month, the library’s reconsideration committee refused to remove the video from the library’s stacks. Now, the patron who filed the request to ban the movie is appealing to the full board.
The board’s censorship policy is also on the agenda.
The agenda does not specifically say what about the “Section X” policy will be considered. Last month, the board changed the makeup of reconsideration committee to two board members and one librarian. Previously, the board consisted of two librarians and one board member. Board president Robert Judge pushed for three board members and no librarians on the committee before the board voted for the two-member, one-librarian model.
Also on the board’s agenda: the planned Northeast Regional Library.
The board will once again consider a plan to lease and renovate an existing space instead of building a new facility. The Northeast Regional Library committee voted 8-3 to support only the construction of a new facility. Last month, board member Landon Boudreaux removed one of the committee’s members, Lynette Mejia, after she wrote an opinion piece critical of him and other board members for The Current.
While these two issues may not seem related, they are. They both highlight the disturbing trend of censorship that members of the Lafayette Public Library Board of Control has been following for months.
It started last year when a local political operative who lives in St. Martin Parish but works in Lafayette challenged This Book Is Gay, a several books aimed at LGBTQ+ teenagers. It continued earlier this year when that same operative challenged another book sex-related geared towards a teen audience, The V Word: True Stories about First Time Sex. The latest challenge seeks to remove Scotty and the Secret Life of Hollywood from the library's shelves.
Let's not kid ourselves. This all stems from the 2018 Drag Queen Story Time controversy. Members of the local community have since taken it upon themselves to be the purveyors of chastity and sexual morality in the Lafayette Public Library. Two of them, Robert Judge and Stephanie Armbruster, now sit on the very board that not only will consider the ban of Scotty and the Secret Life of Hollywood, but has also already changed the rules of the reconsideration committee to stack the deck in favor of eliminating anything that offends them or others who agree with their views on sex and morals.
We must also acknowledge that the people who challenged these works are well within their rights to do so. However, should the board ban this video--or any other materials--on grounds that it contains gratuitous or explicit sexual conduct, the board will then put itself in an interesting pickle. Already, some observers have suggested a novel way to test the library board's motives. Should the library board remove a book from its collection following a complaint about sexually explicit material, these observers would then consider a challenge to most widely published book in the world.
Yes, you know the book: the Bible.
After all, these observers note, the Bible is filled with stories of rape, incest, prostitution, adultery, and more. If the library board can justify removing a book or a video because of sexual content, will they use the same logic to ban the "Good Book" because of its depictions of sexual activity? If the board removes a secular tome because of sexual content but not the Bible, the library board, observers argue, could find itself in a First Amendment case because one could argue a governmental agency used a religious test to determine what materials are available to the public.
Meanwhile, Landon Boudreaux created another censorship problem that could come back to bite the board in court.
Boudreaux has created a chilling effect among the members of the Northeast Regional Library Committee. His act of removing Lynette Mejia from that committee shows that the board will not tolerate anyone openly dissenting with what the conservative Southside coalition that dominates the board. Each board member now has to navigate how to best serve their community--Lafayette's Northside--against the sensibilities and the whims of board members who are afraid to be called out publicly.
As a public servant who works as a government-appointed official on the library board and as an elected member of the Lafayette Parish Republican Executive Committee, I expected Boudreaux to have a thicker skin and a better understanding of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech.
The Lafayette Public Library Board of Control needs to end its crusade against materials some its members and their supporters feel are objectionable. Frankly, if they want people to avoid those books and movies, they shouldn't mention them or give them any free publicity. Silence here would be golden for their cause. It would also be perfect for the rest of us who don't need or want a nanny or a big brother telling us what we can and cannot read or watch.