A public library in southern Maryland has been stripped of nearly $2,500 in public funds after it allowed a private group to use its community meeting room for an event featuring drag queens who read stories to children.
Drag-queen storytimes are becoming popular in libraries nationwide. On June 23, two groups – Southern Maryland Area Secular Humanists and the Leonardtown, Md., a chapter of PFLAG, an LGBTQ rights group – sponsored an event at the Lexington Park Library.
Although the storytime was not sponsored by the library, some conservative Christians in the community tried to derail it. On the day of the event, a local man named Ashley K. Morgan broke into a meeting room where parents, children and drag queens were holding a session on how to wear makeup, and began screaming. Morgan, who had not pre-registered for the event, had been told to stay out of the room. He was subsequently arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest and other charges.
During a July 16 meeting, members of the St. Mary’s County Commission voted to remove $2,439.48 from the county library budget and give it to the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office, ostensibly to cover the cost of security.
Michael Blackwell, the library director, told commissioners that the library’s meeting room must by law be open to various community groups.
“It’s unfortunate that you’ve taken money away from the library for something that we couldn’t stop, and I feel is a retrospective action,” Blackwell said.
But the commissioners were not swayed, and some even suggested that the library stop allowing outside groups to use the room, reported the St. Mary’s County Enterprise.
On July 29, an attorney for American Atheists wrote to the commissioners and advised them that the vote is legally problematic.
“The commission’s decision to defund the library violates Maryland law and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. The Constitution does not allow for a ‘heckler’s veto,’” said Geoffrey Blackwell, American Atheists’ litigation counsel. “The commissioners claimed that they wanted to avoid controversy. Far from quelling controversy, though, they somehow managed to incentivize it.”