Back in June, there was a Drag Queen Story Hour at the Lexington Park Library in Maryland. The event itself was non-controversial, contrary to the fear-mongering of the Religious Right.
But there was an arrest: A Christian protester was removed by police and later charged with “charged with disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, failure to obey a lawful order, resisting arrest, [and] trespassing at a public agency.”
I thought that was the end of the story. It wasn’t.
Weeks after the event took place, on July 16, the St. Mary’s County Commissioners voted 4-1 to move $2,439.38 from the library’s budget to the local sheriff’s office “for the reimbursement of extraordinary law enforcement services and overtime expenses.”
In other words, they punished the library to the tune of $2,500 because insane Christian activists created a scene during an event that involved reading to children. Instead of punishing the Christian shit-stirrers, they punished the librarians for hosting an event that supposedly required police presence.
It’s all the more frustrating when you realize the library didn’t even ask for the police to be there. They were expecting a peaceful event. (Why wouldn’t it be? It’s just a drag queen reading a story. It’s harmless.) Also frustrating? The library has hosted political round tables in the past — events when there was police presence — and they were never billed for it. But invite a drag queen to read a book and apparently that’s a bridge too far…
There was local outrage after the Commissioners made that decision to the point that the office of the Attorney General of Maryland had to get involved. In a letter to a state lawmaker, Assistant Attorney General Kathryn M. Rowe wrote that the Board’s actions “could be found to violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
She also said that if the library reacted to the punishment by not holding “controversial” events, it would also violate the law — even though the library isn’t planning on doing that and even though the Drag Queen Story Hour wasn’t controversial.
She noted that at the July 16 meeting when the punishment was assessed, one of the commissioners…
… suggested to representatives of the library that they should avoid having such controversial events and that their funding may be affected if they continued to have controversial events.”
… [If] the library were to refuse controversial events in order to avoid having their budget reduced, that action would most likely violate the First Amendment.
Charging the library for the police presence they did not request, and which was deemed necessary only because of the anticipated reaction of others, is also constitutionally problematic.
It is my view that charging the library for security added based on the Sheriff’s conclusion about the likelihood of opposition raises serious constitutional questions.
That means if defenders of the library file a lawsuit against the County, they have a strong chance of winning. (But a victory could also hurt local taxpayers who have to foot the bill for the officials’ irresponsibility.)
So far, the Commission has not returned the funds, despite several people urging them to do so at recent meetings.
That’s where you can help. If you live in the area, or have a connection to the area, let the Commissioners know why you believe they must return the money to the library immediately.
You can email them all at once. You can also contact the four who voted to punish the library: President James R. Guy, Eric Colvin, John E. O’Connor, and Todd B. Morgan. (Commissioner Michael L. Hewitt, at the top right in the picture above) was the only dissenting vote. He’s the good guy.)
The community shouldn’t be punished just because Activist Mommy throws a hissy fit online about drag queens. Rewarding Christian bigotry by punishing a library isn’t just idiotic; it’s incentivizing all the wrong things. If conservatives realize they can practically bankrupt the library just by planning protests over anything they find problematic, no doubt they’ll do it. They flip out whenever kids read anything that’s not the Bible.