FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JACKSON, Miss. – Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi sent a letter to Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee, warning that his reported actions, attempting to influence a book ban at the Ridgeland Public Library, are plainly unconstitutional.
The Ridgeland Board of Aldermen approved their budget for 2022, which included appropriations for the Ridgeland Public Library. But the public library failed to receive the first quarterly payment from the City of Ridgeland. According to reports, Mayor McGee later informed the county library system’s executive director that he would not direct payment to be made until the library purges its collection of books with LGBTQ+ themes, stories, and identities because the materials “went against his Christian beliefs.”
Our letter to Mayor McGee reads, “In addition to prohibiting the complete removal of library books for political or viewpoint-based reasons, the First Amendment also prohibits viewpoint-based restrictions on access, such as placing disfavored books in a separate section of the library or behind the librarians’ desk.”
Libraries are intended to function as places of learning and exploration, a marketplace of ideas free of censorship. The viewpoint shared by Ridgeland’s mayor has been espoused all across the country as activist groups and politicians specifically target LGBTQ+ books, pushing to remove or restrict access to them because they present and celebrate queer perspectives. Explicitly denying funding to the public library based on the views within its catalog can subject Mayor McGee and the City of Ridgeland to liability under federal constitutional law.
“Elected officials shouldn’t make misguided attempts to suppress constitutional rights by banning books, especially in a public library. Censoring books by and about LGBTQ+ people is discriminatory and antithetical to the First Amendment,” said McKenna Raney-Gray, ACLU of Mississippi LGBTQ Justice Project Staff Attorney.
The Board of Aldermen is scheduled to meet again Tuesday, February 15, 2022. The ACLU of Mississippi hopes the Ridgeland Board of Aldermen avoids this constitutional violation and makes clear they do not stand behind the actions of their mayor. The Madison County Library System has said it best: “Our library is for everyone.”