Llano County book fight goes to federal appeals court
LLANO COUNTY, Texas - Books that were removed last year from a Llano County library have been returned. By Monday, April 3, all 12 of those books were checked out.
The federal ruling, a preliminary injunction by Judge Robert Pittman, is considered a big victory for the legal team that challenged the removal by county leaders.
Katherine Chiarello, a member of the plaintiff legal team, told FOX 7 they are happy with Judge Pittman’s ruling.
"Yes, they are back. They're not back, they were not returned to the spot from where they were removed. It's my understanding that they're all congregated on, in fact, so in the adult sections and that they've been denoted with some red dot on the side. But as the judge ordered, they are back in the card catalog so that the citizens of Llano can find them if they want to check them out and that they are available for checkout," said Chiarello.
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A lawsuit filed in 2022 claims First Amendment rights were violated when Llano County officials removed 12 books.
A group of Llano residents, in 2021, complained the books, most intended for children and teens, were offensive. Some included graphic descriptions or images of sex acts, others involved topics of race and gay rights.
Those who support the county's action, like Jonathan Saenz with Texas Values, consider Pittman’s ruling an overstep.
"There's no reason to issue this ruling to return the books back when this case has been going on for almost a year, if there was some emergency, you know, they would have had a ruling a long time ago. And so that's the only reason why you have a temporary injunction that there's some real imminent threat. And, you know, the books have been out for a year and the sky is falling," said Saenz.
The trial in October is expected to hinge on how far local control can go, especially in a library.
"Llano has a reputation for being rather conservative, but imagine if the shoe on the other foot and the book that some citizens wanted to remove had to do with Ronald Reagan or George Bush. It wouldn't be right for them to try to remove the entire community’s access to those books simply because that citizen didn't agree with the viewpoint. The remedy there is for the citizen to not read those books, to look at the parent to choose whether their children get to read those books, but not to choose for their neighbors and their neighbor’s children," said Chiarello.
The First Amendment, according to Saenz, has some limitations acknowledged by the U.S. Supreme Court. Dealing with materials considered obscene have long been a big fight on the local level. The fight in Llano is an example of how that fight continues.
"There's this growing effort, almost coordinated effort, to push sexuality and nudity in front of children, and Llano County has every right to say, we don't support that, and we want to protect our children from it," said Saenz.
A Notice of Appeal to the 5th Circuit in New Orleans has been made. That will determine if the books will continue to be available for check out for the rest of the summer.
The Llano County Library allows books to be checked out for two weeks. As of right now, there are no plans to purchase extra copies of those that are out.
So, that bookshelf could stay mostly empty regardless of what happens to the injunction.