Court dismisses defamation case surrounding book censorship effort in Louisiana

Librarian sought injunction; Livingston resident sought dismissal of lawsuit

By: - September 21, 2022 4:03 pm
Girl looking at a book in a library

A Louisiana judge will consider arguments made Sept. 21 in a defamation lawsuit hearing surrounding a book censorship efforts at the Livingston Parish Library. (Canva image)

A Louisiana judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit after hearing arguments Wednesday in a case surrounding book censorship efforts at the Livingston Parish Library. 

Livingston Parish resident Ryan Thames, who runs the Facebook page Bayou State of Mind, appeared in court Wednesday afternoon before 21st Judicial District Judge Erika Sledge to seek dismissal of a defamation lawsuit a librarian filed against him and conservative activist Michael Lunsford. 

Amanda Jones, president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians, sued both men after they posted statements to Facebook criticizing her stance against book censorship. Thames claimed Jones was “advocating teaching sex to 11 year olds.” Lunsford posted, “Why is she fighting so hard to keep sexually erotic and pornographic materials in the kids section?”

Jones wanted the court to grant a preliminary injunction to prevent both defendants from posting any further critical statements about her. However, the judge ruled the case did not meet the threshold of defamation given that Jones had limited public figure status.

Defamation lawsuits are much more difficult when the plaintiff is a public figure because they must prove the defendants made false statements with malicious intent.

LGBTQ book restrictions get dog-eared in Livingston Parish

The hearing came just a day after the Livingston Parish Library Control Board met and rejected proposals to censor a list of books that have LGBTQ+ themes or approach sex education from a non-conservative perspective. 

The Livingston Parish Council passed a resolution last month urging the library board to restrict the books from minors during a meeting that Lunsford and Republican state Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, attended. 

The effort mirrors one that Lunsford spearheaded in Lafayette’s public libraries and others led by right-wing groups across the country

Livingston library board members noted that no library patrons have filed any formal complaints about the books in question. Board member Ivy Graham explained that parish council members should follow library procedure and fill out the proper forms if they want the library to consider restricting any books. 

Thames’ attorney, Joseph Long, who attended Tuesday’s meeting was not happy with the library board’s decision. 

“They work for the parish council and the parish president, and they told them, ‘Get in line, fill out the form,’” Long told the Illuminator. “When you tell them, ‘Get in line and fill out the form,’ how would you do if you told your boss that? You’d get fired, wouldn’t you… It’s insubordination.”

Graham, who is also an attorney, said while the parish council appoints its members, the library board is an independent entity not bound by the directions and authority of the parish council. 

“We don’t work for the parish council,” Graham said. 

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Among his recognitions are McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association. Muller is an alumnus of Jesuit High School and the University of New Orleans and is a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Louisiana with his wife and two sons.

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