The co-founders of Lafayette Citizens Against Censorship have filed lawsuits against Robert Judge, Chairman of the Board of Lafayette Public Library, and the Lafayette Consolidated Government seeking justice for violations of their First Amendment rights. LCG is responsible for appointing Council members, who also appoint and oversee the Library Council.
Melanie Brevis, co-founder of Lafayette Citizens Against Censorship, was removed from a library board meeting in January. According to video clips of the meeting, Brevis was led out by MPs after reading a statement. When she read that statement, the CEO told her it was “out of order.”
Brevis and co-founder Lynette Mejia alleged that Brevis used her allotted time during the public comment phase of the Jan. 9 meeting to express her disapproval of the actions taken by the board, particularly the discriminatory views of some board members she identified by name.
According to her testimony, the judge ordered two deputies to throw Brevis out. Board members questioned several times why Brevis was barred from the meeting. Based on these and other allegations, the lawsuit found that her First Amendment rights as well as the Louisiana Open Meetings Law had been violated.
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“It should really upset everyone in the community because this is not an issue that affects one person or a group, rather the right to free speech affects everyone, no matter where you are on the political spectrum. They have the right to speak at public gatherings or to address government officials, and therefore these restrictions placed on those gatherings by the Lafayette Judge and Oversight Board should be lifted,” Lynette said.
The co-founders of Lafayette Citizens Against Censorship have filed a lawsuit
Under the Louisiana legislature, an open assembly law would allow individuals to observe and participate in the deliberations of public bodies. The document also states that the meeting must allow some funds for public comment.
Brevis believes the reasoning for the ongoing fight to ban these books is complex, but she boils it down to one word: fear. “Our country, our nation, and conservative places like Lafayette Parish and Louisiana as a whole are becoming more diverse.”
The story goes on
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Brevis said the younger generation is much more accepting of diversity and new ideas, but there is a vocal minority of activists who don’t like what they see. “They are scared because these new ideas don’t fit with their own traditional values and scare them. We’ve seen it many times in history. What they were raised to believe is no longer the accepted norm and I think we’re seeing that again, but the 21st version of it.”
Recently, the library board became a subject of controversy when Cara Chance, a Lafayette Parish librarian, was nearly fired by members of the Library Board of Control in July 2022. Chance spoke out against censorship at a board meeting. According to the Louisiana Central Personnel Agency, a public employee’s speech is protected under the First Amendment when he or she speaks on matters of public interest as a citizen.
As a result of this lawsuit, Lynette hopes that all rules put in place by Judge will be repealed and that library committee members and LCG staff will be trained in First Amendment principles so that this does not happen again. “On an even larger scale, the right of everyone in our community deserves the opportunity to be represented in the library and to have access to the books, information and materials in the library and to have diversity.”
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This article originally appeared in the Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Anti-censorship advocates are suing the consolidated Lafayette government