Reading Time: 4 MINUTES
Afew stories about conservative Christians coming after public libraries:
Voters in Jamestown Township, Michigan chose to defund the library, depriving it of 84% of its 2023 budget. Unless that decision is reversed, the Patmos Library will be forced to shut down sometime next year. The reason the vote failed? Because conservative Christians in the community didn’t like that some of the books featured same-sex couples.
Library Director Amber McLain resigned this spring, telling Bridge she had been harassed online and accused of indoctrinating children. Interim director Matthew Lawrence resigned later.
When the Patmos staff and elected board of directors declined to remove the books from the library’s collection, some upset residents organized an effort to defeat the library’s millage renewal.
One of the people who organized the attack on the library naturally cited her Christian faith:
Amanda Ensing, one of the organizers of the Jamestown Conservatives group, emerged from the library Tuesday wearing an “I voted” sticker. “They are trying to groom our children to believe that it’s OK to have these sinful desires,” Ensing said of library officials. “It’s not a political issue, it’s a Biblical issue.”
The Vinton Public Library in Iowa was forced to close for over a week after its interim director, who’s gay, resigned over the Christian community’s homophobia.
Colton Neely had been hired as the children’s librarian in 2020 and did his job well. But between nasty comments said within earshot, and demands to hide or censor books about LGBTQ people, and objections to a summer reading challenge that “encouraged patrons to read books by people of color and LGBTQ authors,” it was clear the people in this town wanted to make the librarians’ lives miserable. Neely only became the director after his predecessor left town to take over a library in a more welcoming community. Before long, he decided he had to go, too:
“You could tell half the crowd was just like, ‘Ugh, you’re disgusting,’” he said of the June 8 meeting. “That was the board meeting where I was just like, ‘I’ve had it.’”
He penned a resignation letter to the library board on June 27, writing that despite his hard-earned qualifications, he felt reduced to just “the gay man of the library.”
“It hurts and I am disappointed,” he wrote.
One of the board members who created this mess was Jennifer Kreutner who, when accused of promoting only conservative perspectives, responded with, “I represent the entire rural community, but most of them are conservative Christians.” As if that made everything better.
In South Carolina, the Greenville County Schools are forming committees to review any books/materials that are challenged at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. They’re currently looking for people to serve on those boards. Don’t have experience with this sort of thing? IT DOESN’T MATTER. At the high school level, for example, the committees will consist of:
- Three parents with children enrolled in Greenville County high schools
- Three district high school teachers from different subject areas
- One high school media specialist
- Two non-employees of the school district
- One member of the clergy
What the hell is a clergy member doing on this committee? There’s one at the other levels, too. All of those other members have some kind of connection to the district, and I would hope the “non-employees” have qualifications for assessing instructional materials, but why on earth would they save a seat at the table for someone who has religious training?! (And let’s be honest: They’re only referring to Christians, even if they don’t say that directly.)
They could easily have asked for a psychologist or a social worker or someone who represents a minority group in the community. Nope. They’re going with religious leader, as if a priest should have any say in what children learn in public schools.
All of this is happening while right-wing politicians are banning books left and right if they commit the cardinal sin of exposing children to LGBTQ people/characters or teaching them about our nation’s racist history. Just this week at CPAC, Sen. Rick Scott claimed liberals were a “modern day version of book burners,” all while conservatives work to shut down public libraries and access to materials that may educate students about perspectives they’re not used to hearing.
What none of these conservatives admit is that a public library is a place where quality books of all kinds should be available to all people. Furthermore, libraries offer so much more than books. They also offer meeting spaces, internet access, video games, audiobooks, reference materials, etc. They’re one of the only places you can go to these days to browse things you don’t already own with no pressure to spend any money. But the bigots will point to anything as a way to imply these places are liberal sanctuaries that must be stopped, whether it’s literature that shows LGBTQ characters in a positive light, Drag Queen Story Hours (which are not sexual), or the celebration of “banned books.”
There’s a dark joke about how it’s a good thing libraries have been around for centuries because there’s no way in hell Republicans would allow them to be created today. But the flip side of that is that conservative Christians are now painting libraries as enemies of children all because they dare to offer people access to information that others may want to keep from them.
If pastors don’t take a lead in shutting this shit down by calling out their own church members’ participation in these mobs, more libraries (and librarians) will suffer, which will have ripple effects throughout their communities. The same principle applies to public schools, which conservatives are also trying to decimate. They’ve always underpaid teachers, but they’re now micromanaging what they’re allowed to say (and not say) to students and funneling taxpayer dollars to private sectarian schools.
The public institutions that have formed the bedrock of our nation are under attack by Christian nationalists and their allies. They want to keep everyone else in the dark like they do in their churches, and conservative politicians and judges are eager to help them achieve their goal.
We shouldn’t be surprised, though. The people least likely to find value in an infinite supply of books are the people who believe only one book matters.