Lawsuit seeks to overturn Crawford County Public Library policy on book restrictions

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 931 views 

Attorney Brian Meadors has filed a federal complaint against book censorship actions by the Crawford County Public Library. The action comes almost 20 years after Meadors won a similar censorship case against the Cedarville Public School District.

The Crawford County Library has in recent months approved the removal and relocation of books largely because of objections from citizens to LGBTQ content.

The controversy began in November 2022 when Tammi Hamby and her husband Dr. Jeffrey Hamby, a Van Buren family physician, spearheaded a campaign against LBGQT+ books being available through the library system, and then Library Director Diedre Grzymala’s book display of LBGQT+ children’s books set up at the Van Buren Public Library. Hamby was appointed to the Crawford County Library Board by Crawford County Judge Chris Keith and named the board chair after Jamie Balkman, former chair, and two other board members resigned after a contentious Quorum Court meeting in December.

Gryzmala would eventually resign with a $40,687.50 severance deal Feb. 21. Eva White was appointed interim director during a special called meeting Feb. 24. White was the library director for Crawford County from 1999 to 2012 and then again from 2013 to January 2021.

The amended lawsuit, filed May 30, alleges that the library system actions violated several state and federal provisions, including those in the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Little Rock attorney Terrence Cain is also working with Meadors on the lawsuit.

“To be clear, none of these books could be fathomably be accused of ‘grooming,’ ‘pornography,’ or ‘exposing children to explicit sexual ideas or imagery.’ For example, the ‘social section’ contains ‘Uncle Bobby’s Wedding,’ ‘Cinderelliot,’ ‘A Scrumptious Fairytale,’ and ‘The Big Book of Pride Flags.’ These books are wholly appropriate for placement in the children’s section of a public library,” noted the lawsuit. “Crawford County’s censorship of the ‘Social Section’ books arises from impermissible religious considerations, i.e., its extreme and malevolent view of the Bible, resulting in the County punishing the already marginalized LGBTQ+ community.”

Meadors told Talk Business & Politics the plaintiffs – Crawford County residents Rebecka Virden, Nina Prater, and Samantha Rowlett – sought him out because of his successful action in 2003 against the Cedarville Public School District. The Cedarville school board restricted student access to Harry Potter books because it was alleged they dealt with witchcraft and the occult. U.S. District Judge Jimm Hendren with the Western District of Arkansas overturned the board’s decision and ordered unrestricted access to all Harry Potter books. Judge Hendren cited First Amendment protections in his ruling.

Meadors said there is a long list of case law – including Sund v. City of Wichita Falls, Texas – that gives him “absolute” confidence his plaintiffs will prevail. In Sund, members of a church sought removal in 2000 of the books “Heather Has Two Mommies” and “Daddy’s Roommate” from the Wichita Falls Public Library because the books addressed homosexuality. The Wichita Falls City Council allowed a petition process to remove books, and as a result the two books were removed to a locked area in the library’s adult section. Again, a federal judge overturned the action, saying it “constituted impermissible content-based and viewpoint based discrimination.”

Meadors also said the plaintiffs see a “bigger picture reason” for the lawsuit because of a rise in recent years of book censorship in schools and public libraries.

“My clients’ view on this case, and they are correct, is that this is bigger than just Crawford County. And it’s not just about LGBTQ books. It’s about censorship overall and the need to stop it now,” Meadors said.

Talk Business & Politics has reached out to attorney Gentry Wahlmeier, attorney for Crawford County and the library board, for comment. Wahlmeier has previously advised the board against its actions to remove or relocate books because of content. During a March 14 library board meeting, he reminded the board that the U.S. Supreme Court says books cannot be reconsidered for their content.

“So it’s a ban on book banning,” Wahlmeier said at the time.

Link here for a PDF copy of the lawsuit.