By RACHEL MIPRO
TOPEKA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has advised St. Marys city commissioners to renew the imperiled lease of their local public library, saying the officials are violating the Constitution in a “dangerous exercise of power.”
The Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library’s lease is under threat after the library refused to accept a renewal lease clause asking them to remove all LGBTQ and socially divisive books from the shelves.
The lease stipulated that the library not “supply, distribute, loan, encourage, or coerce acceptance of or approval of explicit sexual or racially or socially divisive material, or events (such as ‘drag queen story hours’) that support the LGBTQ+ or critical theory ideology or practice.”
The lease clause was discussed after a parent was outraged by “Melissa,” a book by Alex Gino about a transgender middle-schooler. But the parent himself spoke in support of the library during a city debate of the library’s lease.
Officials have been debating whether or not to renew the lease — which ends Dec. 31 — for the past few months. At the latest commission meeting, commissioners discussed allowing the library to have a short-term lease while they decided if the library met their “moral standards.” The deciding vote is expected to be held Dec. 6.
Many St. Marys residents are in favor of keeping the local library, and a petition in support of the library has more than 1,000 signatures.
The library has been housed in its current location since the 1980s, operating on an annual lease with the city. The St. Mary’s branch is the headquarters for eight locations, including Alma, Alta Vista, Eskridge, Harveyville, Olsburg, Onaga, St. Marys and Westmoreland, with county residents funding the library through taxes.
The ACLU urged the commissioners to drop their attempts at censoring the library in a letter sent to the commissioners Thursday, saying banning the proposed materials violated freedom of expression rights.
“Banning books on the grounds that they include racial, sexual, or LGBTQ+ content is not only antithetical to a library’s mission, it is patently unconstitutional,” the letter read. “And threatening to not renew Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library’s lease solely because the library declined to violate the constitution and engage in viewpoint-based censorship is a troubling and authoritarian step for the Commission to take.”
ACLU officials say they will decide what action to take pending the results of the Dec. 6 vote.