Protesters gathered outside the League City Council Chambers on February 28 to voice opposition to an ordinance creating a new committee responsible for reviewing Helen Hall Library books deemed offensive. (Jake Magee/Community Impact)
After the League City Council passed an ordinance to create a new controversial review committee for any Helen Hall Library books that residents flag as potentially offensive, opponents of the ordinance said they’re not giving up.
On Feb. 28, the City Council voted 5-3 to give final reading to an ordinance creating the Community Standards Review Committee, a seven-member group responsible for reviewing public library books that residents file complaints about. The first reading passed 5-3 on 14 February.
Under the ordinance, a resident may ask the committee to reconsider the classification or placement of library materials. For example, if a resident found a book about sex in the teen ward, they could request that it be placed elsewhere.
The committee—composed of three Helen Hall Library board members, three residents with experience in early childhood education, and one chair who would only vote to break ties—would then review the book in question and the petitioner’s request and decide by vote whether to reclassify or shelve the book new.
The regulation allows the complainant to appeal the committee’s decision to the city council.
Before the ordinance passed, Councilman Tom Crews, who ultimately voted against the ordinance along with Councilmen Chad Tressler and John Bowen, amended the ordinance to say that if an appeal reached the City Council, it would require a supermajority vote of at least six council members in favor to move a book.
“I think it will put a spotlight on the book and off the politics,” Crews said.
Tressler said the ordinance had undergone several revisions since it was first proposed, but still maintained its original intent.
“What was first published on our agenda and went through several revisions was an attempt to define books as offensive or harmful or inappropriate because they are books that appeal to certain communities in our society, plain and simple,” Tressler said, with reference to LGBT. society. “That’s not right. Taking that language out doesn’t change the fact that that was the intent of it.”
On Dec. 6, the City Council voted 4-3 in favor of a resolution prohibiting the city from spending tax dollars on “indecent” material intended for minors to be available at the library. Subjects considered obscene under the resolution include pedophilia; incest; rape; bondage; and sex, nudity and sexual preferences in books with an intended audience under the age of 10.
Dozens of League City and Galveston County residents have expressed strong opposition to the committee and the Dec. 6 resolution, saying they are a violation of the First Amendment and essentially a ban on books. Many said they are an attempt to censor books with LGBT themes.
Nearly 20 residents protested before the February 28 meeting. Many of the protesters represented the Galveston County Library Alliance, a group formed in response to the proposed ordinance.
Many public speakers at the meeting threatened legal action if the ordinance were to pass. After the ordinance passed, Katherine Swanson, who helped establish the alliance, said she was both proud and frustrated.
“I am proud because so many residents showed up tonight to voice their opposition; their words were strong, and the message was clear. I’m frustrated because the League City Council once again ignored citizen voices and even those on the City Council,” she said. “This ordinance is problematic, and the City Council knows this, but they continued. As a citizen, I am not thrilled about my money and that of my fellow taxpayers going to a lawsuit.”
Swanson said the alliance plans to continue opposing the ordinance.
“I can tell you this: This fight is not over. The citizens of the Galveston County Library Alliance and League City will do whatever it takes to correct this mistake, she said.
John Cobarruvias was a resident who protested and publicly spoke against the ordinance during the meeting. He said he will support the alliance going forward.
“I will continue to support the alliance with money if necessary,” he said. “I will also look at the council members and expose their hypocrisy if any of them violate their Christian family values.”
A few opponents questioned why a new book review committee is necessary. Until the new committee was created, the library board was responsible for deciding whether to reclassify or discard books about which residents complained. Since 2016, the board has reviewed three books, which they moved to different parts of the library, city staff said.
No council member who voted in favor of the ordinance spoke about it during the Feb. 28 meeting.