ACLU Sues Texas City for Public Library Censorship

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
July 16, 1999 12:00 am

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WICHITA FALLS, TX — The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas today filed suit in federal district court against the City of Wichita Falls challenging the constitutionality of removing two books from the children’s area of the city’s public library.

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

The two award winning works, Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate, were removed last week under a new city resolution that was adopted with much controversy last February.

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. Since then, 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 controversy revolves around a group of folks that do not share the same viewpoints as those expressed in these particular children’s books,” said Diana Philip, Regional Director of the ACLU of Texas. “As a result, a small group of people are trying to make decisions about what other people’s children can read in the library.”

Known as the “Altman Resolution,” the city ordinance provides no recourse to those citizens who might be opposed to the removal petitions.

The city residents are asking for a temporary restraining order requiring the books to be returned to the Youth Non-Fiction section of the public library. The lawsuit is also asking for the court to declare the Altman Resolution unconstitutional, as it allows the city council to unlawfully delegate its proper legislative authority to any 300 private citizens who wish to violate other library patrons’ free speech rights.

By placing children’s books in the adult section of the library, civil libertarians claim that the city is hiding books from young library patrons.

“Kids are just not going to look adult areas of the library for the books they need,” the ACLU’s Philip said. “Hiding the books under the authority of the city council is plain old censorship. What is truly unfortunate is that these decisions are being made based upon bigotry and intolerance. I do not think that the good people of Wichita Falls want to be as known as bigots.”

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