More than 100 people gather at the Covington library to discuss challenged library materials during a St. Tammany Library Board of Control meeting in December 2022. (Piper Hutchinson/Louisiana Illuminator)
A Northshore district attorney has waded into the fight over library materials after complaints were made to local police over what some consider inappropriate books.
Warren Montgomery, prosecutor for St. Tammany and Washington parishes, sent a memo to all police chiefs and captains in St. Tammany advising them of how state law applies to books on library shelves.
“Please utilize this as a screening tool when reviewing charges for public library cases that are deemed to be ‘material’ harmful to minors or otherwise,” Montgomery wrote in the memo. See the full memo below.
The memo gives an explanation of a criminal statute regarding the distribution of material harmful to minors. The DA asserts that the statute, which typically applies to commercial entities, can also be interpreted to apply to the public library system.
Collin Simms, the DA’s criminal section chief, said in an interview the memo was sent after several complaints were made to the Slidell Police Department. The department did not respond to multiple comment requests from the Illuminator.
A complaint was made to the Covington Police Department regarding “Gender Queer,” a graphic novel about the author’s journey with their gender identity, according to The Advocate. The article said several people voiced concerns to the Mandeville Police Department, but its chief did not view them as criminal complaints.
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Montgomery’s memo comes at a time of rising tensions in St. Tammany. The parish is the latest venue for a conservative movement to challenge library materials some view as inappropriate for children and teens. The efforts have also targeted library displays, such as Pride Month exhibits, and events featuring drag queens.
While some of the challenged books were written to teach young people about sex, many do not include sexual themes. They include stories about LGBTQ people and minorities.
Similar movements have taken hold in Lafayette, Livingston and Rapides parishes, but the fight in St. Tammany Parish has seen an increase in tactics to remove books from shelves.
While just two books were subject to challenges in Livingston Parish from January to November 2022, St. Tammany received 75 challenges in the three weeks leading up to a Library Board of Control meeting last month.
St. Tammany was also where Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican who recently launched a bid for governor, announced a new statewide tip line for what he called “taxpayer-subsidized sexualization of children” at libraries. Landry’s office said the tip line was related to his work in the AG’s Cyber Crime Unit.
The movement has been led by two conservative groups. Citizens for a New Louisiana, a Lafayette-based advocacy organization, has been involved in similar fights across the state. The St. Tammany Parish Library Accountability Project, an informal group led by David Cougle and Connie Phillips, has kept the fires burning closer to home.
In daily posts to their Facebook followers, the Accountability Project decries pedophilic materials and criticizes library officials.
“The library is knowingly breaking the law,” one group post reads. “(St. Tammany) Parish Council fire the [board of control]. That’s “cause!!!” Are you all groomers?”
Both groups falsely posted on social media that Montgomery used the memo to order St. Tammany libraries to create a separate area for sexual content that would be inaccessible to minors.
Ken Levy, a criminal law professor at LSU, said the memo merely advises police on a particular state law, and does not order them to take any specific action.
In an interview, Michael Lunsford, executive director of Citizens for a New Louisiana, acknowledged the memo was not a direct order. He said his post claiming the DA ordered a separate area inaccessible to minors was simply meant to draw in readers, adding that there aren’t enough characters in a Twitter post to explain everything.
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