ACLU urges St. Marys City Commission to drop censorship fight, fund library

FILE - St. Marys library may be in jeopardy, lease set to end in December
FILE - St. Marys library may be in jeopardy, lease set to end in December
Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 4:57 PM CST
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ST. MARYS, Kan. (WIBW) - The ACLU has urged the St. Marys City Commission to drop its censorship fight and continue to fund the local library.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas says it has called on the St. Marys City Commission to continue to fund the Pottawatomie-Wabaunsee Regional Library headquarters and abandon a proposed ban on certain materials.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Commission voted to postpone a decision about the library’s lease, which expires on Dec. 31, until its next meeting. The ACLU said the decision follows the library’s refusal to remove all LGBTQ, sexual, racial or otherwise “socially diverse” content.

The organization noted that various members of the community testified at the meeting and have also contacted it with their concerns about the proposed ban and heavy-handed response. It said the move to essentially close the library arose largely in response to one resident’s concern over a single book about a transgender child.

The book in question is “Melissa,” written by Alex Gino which was previously published as “George.” The book expresses transgender views, however, library staff said the book no longer remains on its shelves.

“The residents of the various cities served by the library have a First Amendment right to the targeted content,” said Sharon Brett, Legal Director of the ACLU of Kansas. “And the St. Mary’s commission’s insistence on banning items containing content they don’t like could have constitutional implications when it comes to library patrons’ rights to free expression and the right to receive information.”

The ACLU indicated that the commission’s request constitutes one of the most extreme examples of censorship in the Sunflower State thus far and shows localization of recent attacks on intellectual freedom nationwide.

“It’s not too late for the commission to change course,” said Micah Kubic, Executive Director of the ACLU of Kansas. “Already the commission has toed the line of authoritarian censorship, which has historically silenced, stifled, and whitewashed the perspectives of marginalized groups of people.

“Ultimately, this is a truly troubling exercise of power by each member of the St. Mary’s Commission,” Kubic said. “The very framework of our democracy is held up by the education of its citizenry and by a society in which ideas are openly disseminated and debated, even when those in power disagree, and especially on deeply complex issues. We should all have the right to make up our own minds, and it’s dangerous territory when city authorities begin to toy with that right.”

The ACLU noted that the library has an existing policy that allows parents to filter what their children can check out. The commission now plans to vote on the library’s lease renewal at its Dec. 6 meeting. It said it will continue to monitor the situation and consider all possible options.

13 NEWS reached out to the St. Marys City Commission for a statement about the ACLU’s claims on Wednesday, Nov. 16, however, no response has been forthcoming.