Rapides Parish Library pursuing legal advisement on controversial collection policy amendment

Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 11:46 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 17, 2023 at 11:47 PM CST
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RAPIDES PARISH, La. (KALB) - More than 40 community members delivered comments on a proposed amendment to the Rapides Parish Library’s Collection Development policy on Tuesday, Jan. 17. However, it was the legal aspects of the process to deciding on the amendment that resulted in a board vote on a different motion than the one already on the agenda.

Instead of voting to approve or disapprove board member James Morgan’s motion, the board voted 6-3 to approve a substitute motion seeking legal advisement from the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office on the amendment. This comes after concerns from the board’s attorney, Greg Jones, that the amendment as it is written now would be deemed unconstitutional in court.

“When you’re challenged in state and federal court and it’s reviewed, they won’t amend the policy to read as they think it should be. They won’t redraft it for you. They’ll kick it out as unconstitutional,” he said.

“These collections shall not include materials containing obscenity, sexual content (including content regarding sexual orientation and gender identity), or any other material that is unsuitable for the children and teen collections. Library events and displays for children and teens shall be held to the same standard.”

Proposed amendment sent from James Morgan to the Rapides Parish Library Board of Control

Jones’ legal take followed hours of comments from members of the community both for and against the proposed amendment.

“Far from book banning or censorship, this measure is a common sense solution that serves the interest of both sides,” said Zach Mullis in support. “It helps the parents to have these conversations on their terms, and it helps those who would want to locate materials and find them more easily since it simply recategorizes them in a collection of their own.”

In many cases, those supporters argued that they wanted to get rid of pornographic material in the children and teens section. Three women in support of the amendment’s passage read graphic excerpts from a few books in the teen section of the library describing sexual acts.

“If you wouldn’t give some of these books to your own grandchildren or hand them out in the neighborhood, then why would you put them in the children’s section so that anyone can stumble across them?” asked William Avant, also in support.

“The argument has been made that the policy in place is fine, that people are doing a good job. And I would say that you know it’s not the case when you think about in the teen’s section books that say...that encourage sex pics and describes those pictures,” said Danny Higdon.

Much of the testimony opposing the amendment was in the same vein, arguing no one wants material of that nature in those sections.

“Nobody in this room wants children to see pornographic materials. The library’s current procurement policy clearly addresses this,” said Ann Lowery, who works with CLASS. “And, if you find a book that presents pornography in the library’s collection, make a collection under the current policy.”

“Please don’t get sidetracked about pornography. Nowhere in this amendment does pornography even exist. It is a distraction. It is a ruse,” said Maria Losavio, a local attorney.

Aside from concerns over sexually explicit content, some community members have expressed concerns since the amendment was first introduced in December 2022, that the amendment groups in gender identity and sexual orientation, arguing it targets LGBTQ+ content.

“This is not church. This is a public library. It is for everyone,” one community member said.

“When you paint the LGBTQ community as aberrant, obscene and dangerous, you bear responsibility when a young person is exploring their identity and feels that they must take their own life because they cannot be loved by God,” said another commenter in opposition. “You cannot now say, ‘I didn’t know.’ You cannot say that you are not responsible.”

It has also been said that the amendment seeks to ban the books it intends to rid the teen’s and children’s section of the library of, as well as claims that it promotes censorship.

Morgan asked the library board to differentiate between his ban counting as censorship and the categorization of other books as not. He instead pointed to what both sides of the issue have expressed at the December and January board meetings and what is already a tenant of the library’s collection development policy: that many believe the issue to be about parental choice.

“Do we believe it is the parent’s right to decide when and how they are introduced to the content listed in the amendment?” asked Morgan.

“Absolutely,” responded Le’Anza D. Jordan, board president.

“Okay, so then it becomes do we set the parents up for success better if we mix the books with this content into the children’s section or if we put them in another section?” followed Morgan.

However, it was on that point that the board claimed Morgan was making an assumption, and that the amendment did not articulate where the books would go. In addition to concerns about clarification, many from the board and the community were concerned the language in the amendment is too broad and vague.

“Would the books that deal with pregnancy and adolescent development and body maturity, would that be considered sexual content?” asked Jordan.

“Do you need an overly broad, ambiguous amendment that is going to have a very difficult time being monitored or regulated?” asked Susan Tudor.

“What I am against is sexually explicit or obscene material. I understand that there will be books that have two moms in them. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the things that the girls came up and read. I’m talking about the pictures where Jude or any of my girls could come across these things, and we have to have conversations with them that are way too early,” said Jennifer Sharbano, who supported the amendment’s goals to prohibit sexually explicit content from the children’s and teen’s collections, but suggested the proposed amendment should be amended to fall in line with that.

The concern over pornographic and sexually explicit content was ultimately the common ground resulting from public comments.

Jones recommended the board focus on the common ground and refining the amendment to better suit that, if targeting pornographic material is the intent, as well as seek out additional legal guidance, before moving forward with a vote.

He told the board he will submit a request for legal advisement on the issue to the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office by the end of the week.

News Channel 5 asked Morgan if he would be available for an interview after the meeting concluded. He declined.

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