ACLU Claims First Victory In Texas Public Library Censorship Case

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
July 20, 1999 12:00 am

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WICHITA FALLS, TX — The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas was granted a temporary restraining order against the City of Wichita Falls in federal district court today in a challenge to the constitutionality of removing two books from the children’s area of the city’s public library.

Judge Jerry Buchmeyer agreed that the two award winning books, Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate, should be placed back into the youth non-fiction area of the public library. Both books were removed last Wednesday under a new city resolution that passed under much controversy in February.

The ACLU of Texas, representing 19 residents of Wichita Falls, said that the removal of the books and the resolution allowing the censorship violates the right to free expression, to receive information, and to due process rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendment.

The lawsuit also asks the court to declare the “Altman Resolution” unconstitutional as it allows the city council to unlawfully delegate the power of removing a book to any 300 private citizens who object to its content.

“It is unfortunate that a lawsuit had to be filed to resolve this situation, but the city council can still choose to rescind the resolution so this lawsuit can become moot,” said Diana Philip, Regional Director of the ACLU of Texas. “I would think this would be in the best interest of the Wichita Falls tax payers, rather than allowing city funds to be engaged in a fight to allow censorship in its library. In fact, the ACLU has offered to waive its attorney fees at this point if the city does choose to repeal its ordinance.”

According to the terms of the order, the City of Wichita Falls has agreed not to enforce the resolution pending the outcome of the temporary injunction hearing to be held in the next three to four weeks.

Under the resolution, a book must be removed from the children’s section of the library to an adult area upon receiving a petition signed by 300 Wichita Falls residents who object to the content of the book.

The city council has been under fire from residents who feel that the resolution allows censorship of certain books disfavored by local special interest groups who have an interest in controlling access to materials for all library patrons.

The ACLU of Texas filed the lawsuit Friday, July 16, 1999 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Lead volunteer cooperating attorney is Dallas lawyer, John Horany. Local counsel for the ACLU is Wichita Falls attorney, Robert Hampton.

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