Books are increasingly under fire in the United States – literally in some cases.
Tennessee Pastor Greg Locke of Global Vision Bible Church held a mass book burning last week, targeting volumes he considers to be “demonic.” NBC News reported that during the event, which was livestreamed on Facebook, “churchgoers hurl books and other items deemed associated with ‘witchcraft’ into a massive bonfire on the church’s parking lot in Mount Juliet, Tennessee.”
In the same state, a school board in McMinn County captured national headlines after it voted last month to remove the graphic novel Maus, a retelling of the Holocaust, from the eighth grade language arts curriculum.
Not to be cut out of the action, the mayor of a small city in Mississippi has apparently decided that his religious beliefs give him the right to decide what everyone else in town can read at the public library.
Mayor Gene McGee of Ridgeland, a community of about 24,000 residents in Madison County, is holding back $110,000 in funding for the county library system, reported Mississippi Free Press, an online news site.
Tonja Johnson, executive director of the county libraries, told the Free Press she reached out to McGee after she failed to receive a quarterly payment from the city. What he told her was surprising.
“He explained his opposition to what he called ‘homosexual materials’ in the library, that it went against his Christian beliefs, and that he would not release the money as the long as the materials were there,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who seems to have the patience of Job, told the Free Press that she carefully explained to McGee that the library is not a religious institution and that it must serve the entire community – but the mayor was unmoved.
McGee is behaving like a Christian nationalist tyrant, but he probably doesn’t even have the power to withhold the funds, which the city’s board of aldermen has already approved. However, it doesn’t appear that the board is in any hurry to rein him in.
McGee said he acted because members of the community complained about some of the books in the library.
“We’re holding [the money] right now because we found a large number of citizens who have complained about displays of sexual, whatever you want to call it, content,” McGee said. “We’re just responding to those citizens’ complaints, and that’s the position we’re in.”
Not surprisingly, the books under fire are LGBTQ-themed. One of them, The Queer Bible, is a collection of essays by and about notable LGBTQ people. Another book, Grandad’s Camper, is a children’s book. Johnson said the library has a formal process that residents can use to challenge books. While verbal complaints were lodged about both volumes, no formal challenges were filed, she said.
Friends of the Ridgeland Library set up a fundraising campaign to make up for some of the lost funds. The group had hoped to raise a few thousand dollars but within a matter of days had pulled in $75,000.
It’s great that folks want to help, but Ridgeland’s library can’t always rely on the kindness of strangers. Someone must confront McGee and inform him that, while he may be mayor, that doesn’t mean he’s a supreme dictator with the power to cast any books that displease him into metaphorical (or literal) fires.