On Eve of 'Banned Books Week,' Texas Judge Blocks Censorship of Two Gay Parenting Books in Library

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
September 20, 2000 12:00 am

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WICHITA FALLS, TX –A federal judge today struck down a local law that restricted public library access to two books about gay parenting, calling the policy unconstitutional, the American Civil Liberties Union announced.

The ruling came down days before Texas and the rest of the nation begin celebrating “Banned Book Week,” from Sept. 23-27, and before the local ACLU issues its annual report on book censorship in the state.

Dallas attorney John Horany, who represented 19 individuals, including three children in Wichita Falls, as a volunteer cooperating attorney on behalf of the ACLU, lauded the court’s unswerving protection for free speech rights.

“This was never a gay issue or a religious issue — it was and is a free speech issue,” he said. “We are gratified and heartened by the very thorough and precise opinion issued by the court.”

Horany said the ruling had special meaning for him, as a gay man who grew up in Wichita Falls.

In its ruling, the court found that policy, both on its face and as applied to the removal of the two books from the children’s area of the library to the adult’s section, violates federal and state constitutional rights to receive information.

“The resolution and the book removals burden fully protected speech on the basis of content and viewpoint and they therefore cannot stand,” the court said in an opinion authored by U.S. District Chief Judge Jerry Buchmeyer.

The Wichita Falls ordinance, known as the Altman Resolution, allowed 300 library card holders to petition for the removal of any children’s book in the Wichita Falls public library children’s section to be relocated to the adult section.

The city library staff initially relocated two books, Daddy’s Roommate and Heather Has Two Mommies, after receiving petitions spearheaded by members of the First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls who initially wanted to remove “any literature that promotes or sanctions a homosexual lifestyle.” One of the books portrays a lesbian couple who raise a daughter. The other describes a man who leaves his wife and son for a boyfriend.

“Judge Buchmeyer reminds us today that fundamental Constitutional rights are not insignificant,” said Will Harrell, Executive Director of the ACLU of Texas.

“This nation benefits from its diversity and it has stood so long because ignorance and bigotry are restrained by judicial enforcement of the Constitution,” he added. “Our free speech rights certainly can withstand the whims of a vocal minority like the intolerant 300 petitioner signers in Wichita Falls.”

Harrell said that this Saturday, the ACLU together with the American Library Association will begin celebration of Banned Books Week by hosting “Banned Books” readings at Half Price Books locations in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. The ACLU of Texas will be issuing its annual report on book censorship on Friday, September 21.

In the Wichita Falls case, members from a local non-partisan group, Wichita Falls Coalition Against Censorship (http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Senate/7709), opposed the censorship action and recruited the plaintiffs to bring the matter to trial.

Attorneys in the case were Horany, along with Robert M. Hampton and co-counsel Theresa A. Chmara and Daniel Mach, First Amendment specialists with the Washington D.C. office of Jenner & Block.

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