By: guest blogger Larry Weidman
Last June, the public library in Temple, Texas, put up a simple tabletop display for Pride Month. There were no complaints. But a couple of months later, a local preacher heard about it and fired up a petition drive trying to force the library to change its policy on dealing with “controversial” subjects. The local paper has covered the story.
In my local news days, the Library Board’s public hearing this week is something I might have covered. Even as a producer and correspondent for NBC News, it might have caught my eye. But I’m retired now. As frequent visitor and contributor to the library, frankly, the “controversy” infuriated me.
So I signed up to speak, and with my allotted three minutes, I waded into the murky world of politics and religion.
Here’s the text:
Good morning. My name is Larry Weidman. I live in Temple and I come to the library a lot. I occasionally contribute books, audio books and DVD’s.
I’m retired now, but for nearly fifty years I was a journalist. I started in a small town, worked in a big city and for 25 years, I worked for a network—covering news in at least 30 states and two dozen foreign countries.
I’m here to speak up for our public library against an effort to apply religious pressure on its independence. I take that personally.
Our daughter is gay, married to our daughter-in-law and they’ve given us two delightful grandkids—a boy who’s three and half, and a granddaughter who had her 7th birthday last week, and I’m proud to say she just qualified for a personalized patch selling girl scout cookies.
What could be more traditional? More American?
I looked at our copy of the yellow pages and there are 86 churches listed, under 32 categories or denominations. I wish there were a hundred eighty-six…the more the better. That’s freedom of religion, and I would say there’s no shortage here. That’s American too.
What isn’t very American is for a small group to claim to speak for all Christians. They don’t. They can’t.
In my yellow pages, there is one public library listed in Temple. It’s for everyone. And when my daughter, her wife and our grandchildren visit…I want them to feel welcome here.
I’ve lived and worked in two countries that are technically theocracies. So I know what that looks like. The US is not one. But I find it depressing there are people who claim to be offended by a table in the library with books on it, and a poster with hearts and rainbows.
I don’t trust groups like that with my constitutional freedoms. Public libraries date back to Ben Franklin—and in that tradition, I trust trained and independent librarians, working in a free and independent library like this one.
I’m sure you may hear lots of scripture today, and I could give you any number of anti-censorship, pro-library quotes from Ben Franklin to Mark Twain to Ray Bradbury, but I’ll close with a thought from our daughter:
“For all of their think-of-the-children rhetoric, they’re certainly eager to make a lot of kids–including mine–feel terrible.”
In the dueling petition drives, library supporters turned in three times more signatures than those from the other group. And somewhat surprisingly, in this very conservative area, the speakers were fairly evenly divided. Many of the religiously oriented focused on re-litigating gay marriage, biblical denunciations of homosexuality, health misinformation, abortion and politics.
Two of the three candidates running for the local State Representative seat were there: one a preacher at a small church, the other a gun-rights activist. Both appear to be running to the right of the conservative incumbent, Hugh Shine, in the March GOP primary. Shine, apparently feeling ultra-right-wing pressure, issued a remarkably strident statement supporting censorship in the library:
“If I had been a member of the Temple City Council and learned of the LBGT display in the Temple Library, I would have insisted on its removal immediately. I do not support the display, which is contrary to Central Texas’ foundation of faith and family. I understand the City of Temple is developing a policy initiative that will address this issue. My hopes are that the policy will reflect the Christian principles, values, and virtues of our community and permanently prevent such displays in the future.”
Interestingly, the statement is not posted on his website.
No Democrat registered to run for the District 55 seat from Bell County.
The Board deferred action, but according to the Temple Telegram, the city manager has said a new policy regarding library displays will be put in place early this year.
- Temple City Manager: Brynn Myers firstname.lastname@example.org
- Temple Public Library: Leigh Gardner email@example.com
- Temple Daily Telegram: Eric Garcia, city editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Larry Weidman is a retired broadcast journalist and former NBC News producer, correspondent and bureau chief. email@example.com