At the conclusion of the Chemung County Legislature’s Budget Committee meeting on Monday, Legislator Joe Brennan raised concern over programming at the Steele Memorial Library in Elmira. Specifically, Brennan urged the Legislature to take action against the Chemung County Library District because it periodically hosts “Drag Queen Story Time.”
The video below is from Monday’s meeting, and the image is from the of Legislator Joe Brennan’s official Facebook page:
As evidenced by my expression and comments at the meeting, I was shocked for several reasons.
The Legislature has no power or control over the Library District
First, Chemung County government has absolutely no oversight of public libraries in Chemung County.
Prior to a public referendum on November 8, 2005, libraries in Chemung County were funded through local property taxes, something that was included as a separate line-item on the county budget.
However, the referendum, which passed overwhelmingly, created a special “library district”:
The Library District is governed by an elected Board of Trustees and is funded through a combination of its own tax levy, state grants, private donations and a P.I.L.O.T. (“payment in lieu of taxes”) agreement. The Library District’s P.I.L.O.T. was not given by the Chemung County Industrial Development Agency, but rather another statewide economic development agency.
In other words,the people who live in Chemung County have the power to influence what happens at the Library District through their votes for Trustees and the budget – not the Legislature, a body which does not have any over control over it.
Censorship violates our First Amendment rights to free speech and expression
The First Amendment guarantees every person in the United States has, among other things, the rights to free speech and expression.
The United States Supreme Court has held on numerous occasions that the rights to free speech and expression do not simply allow people to freely share information, but freely receive it as well:
The protection of the Bill of Rights goes beyond the specific guarantees to protect from Congressional abridgment those equally fundamental personal rights necessary to make the express guarantees fully meaningful.I think the right to receive publications is such a fundamental right.
The dissemination of ideas can accomplish nothing if otherwise willing addressees are not free to receive and consider them. It would be a barren marketplace of ideas that had only sellers and no buyers.Justice William Brennan, Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301 (1965)
These freedoms are particularly critical when it comes to libraries, as reflected in Library Bill of Rights:
In addition, the American Library Association (ALA) has endorsed a “Right to Read” policy which urges librarians to strenuously resist governmental suppression of ideas and materials.
We believe that free communication is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture. We believe that these pressures toward conformity present the danger of limiting the range and variety of inquiry and expression on which our democracy and our culture depend. We believe that every American community must jealously guard the freedom to publish and to circulate, in order to preserve its own freedom to read. We believe that publishers and librarians have a profound responsibility to give validity to that freedom to read by making it possible for the readers to choose freely from a variety of offerings.
The Right to Read policy includes seven critical provisions:
The Library Bill of Rights and the ALA’s Right to Read policy apply not only to books, but also to live programming at the library such as Drag Queen Story Time. More fundamentally, the freedom for people to share and receive this type of program is clearly and fully protected by the First Amendment.
As such, a suggestion that the Legislature pass a resolution aimed at forcing the Library District to stop providing this constitutionally-protected content is extremely problematic, if not outright unlawful.
The elected Library District Trustees, in an exercise of their power which is wholly independent from Chemung County, has chosen to host Drag Queen Story Time. The content of Drag Queen Story Time is protected by the First Amendment, and the Library Bill of Rights and Right to Read policy urges libraries to refrain from allowing the government to censor its materials. If the Legislature were to act in the way Legislator Brennan suggested at Monday’s meeting, we would be asking Library District Trustees to not only violate their own rules and policies, but also the U.S. Constitution itself.
Some people reading this post may dislike – even despise – the idea of Drag Queen Story Time or the fact that LGTBQ+ reading materials can be found at the library. However, ask yourself this…what if the suggestion was to pressure the Library District from providing programming or content about the Civil War? Or Christianity? Or the Holocaust, the Second Amendment, 9-11, the Great Depression or slavery? This is why resistance to censorship at our libraries and in society at large is so critical.
First Amendment arguments have recently been used to promote several political and social matters. Its protections were cited as justification for Neo-Nazi rallies in Richmond, Virginia and other communities, the attempted use of Confederate Flag imagery on government-issued license plates, the elimination of many regulations over big corporations and the redefinition of campaign finance laws.
The irony is that in matters like this, proponents of censorship seek to minimize the scope of First Amendment protections. In other words, the argument for expansive, powerful freedoms of speech and expression are conveniently cast to the side whenever the situation requires it. This type of constitutional fluidity (or straight up cherry-picking) is certainly not what our nation’s founders had in mind.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously stated that we need “more speech, not enforced silence.” It’s expected that we won’t like all speech, but the First Amendment requires us to allow as much as possible of it to be expressed regardless of our personal views.
Drag Queens are not scary
Without question, Legislator Brennan’s remarks about Drag Queens and the LBGTQ+ community – along with the snickering of many legislators sitting around the table Monday night – was what I found most bothersome.
Chemung County has faced a growing population decline for decades. Building a vibrant community is not only about providing jobs, but also creating a welcoming, inclusive environment that makes people want to live here. Basic camaraderie, not divisiveness, is what we desperately need most.
The creation of this environment starts with our leaders. Rather than mocking the Library District’s program, legislators and other community leaders should come to the Steele Memorial Library on November 14th to find out what its all about. From some of the clips and photos I have seen and embedded below, it looks to be an incredibly fun time!
Aside from the inappropriate attempt to leverage his position on the Legislature to formally ‘disavow’ this program and as a public platform to encourage funding be disapproved……I am particularly disturbed by two points he has made AFTER the meeting:Loading...
1) Brennan’s statement to WETM news: “The Chemung County Legislature is comprised of 12 Republicans and 3 Democrats, yet repeatedly, Chairman Manchester has allowed the minority leader to interrupt others, cut off discussion, and on several occasions become the de facto leader of the Legislature.Tompkins County is highly liberal, and it permeates their culture. Chemung County politics is dominated by Republicans, yet even the discussion of conservative policies seems to be out of bounds.It is my sincere hope that Chairman Manchester focus more on promoting the ideals of the Republican Party that narrowly elected him.” …….considering he acknowledged the ‘narrow margin’ between parties….it is divisive and inexcusable to suggest that the Chairman should run the Legislature with an expressly partisan agenda that rejects the interests of the (NARROWLY defined) minority.
2) Brennan repeatedly dismissed comments on his FB post from those not in his district and contemptuously proclaimed that they (we) are not “his” constituents (as he has habitually expressed on past issues). ……. Correct me if I am wrong, but don’t his committee posts (Budget, HHS, Highway) require him to act in the interests of ALL Chemung County residents??? ……..I believe it would be appropriate for the Legislature to review his constant public declarations that he has NO obligation to represent anyone who is not a registered 4th District voter, and consider if that mindset should preclude him from Committee posts. ………………….LASTL, can you please research a posting/comment section editor can be tweaked to allow paragraph and line breaks? (It really is hard to read comments in one long text block)
the yukking it up and silence of others NOT standing was shocking, more troubling then Mr Brennen . I doubt highly he has ever sat down to break bread with a family in his district let alone Chemung County who has a loved one of a different belief system than his. Sad as e’d find out he’s missing out on some very nice people who are very respectable, stand up citizens. I wonder if he asks retail, medical, EMS, firefighters , law etc BEFORE they touch or speak to him or his loved ones IF they are..or thought of..or engauged in behavior he does not agree with since NOW his statement all but straight up goes old school of accusing said people of being well pretty much subhuman .. as if the agenda is to harm children such as way too many of his own religion’s leaders have !! It also amazes me that same style of belief will beg for donations , use public funds YET…IF someone says they love , support others of any different lifestyle.. WOW.. same people act as if “”it’s catching”” There currently IS a family doing exactly this.. When a couple of us wanted to help out we were told NO!! as we both have a trans within the families.. gay.. friends.. We never looked twice other than we have been honest with them.. we don’t get it.. but come as you are.. decent people are different many times!! I invite Mr Bennen to break bread with US and meet the people we speak of.. He can come minus his wife and children , We’d accpe that.. Just to converse, have a nice meal in public, with no fanfare.. no media, no surprises.. As for these people , I worry they will be killed, yes due to fear such as he is spreading. And the statement released is all but slander!! Sad too he NEVER thought much of who worked , did talks/shows( such as one well known thief!! public documented!!) oh and a family member who worked there and come to find out ripped the place off blind.. and of the same faith as he is!! Hmm imagine THAT!! A straight female too!! married forever to a man !! YET he is implying so much in his statement.. I can’t wait to see what becomes of the poor being preyed on locally by religious groups with the promise of God wants them to have by their donating monies they don’t have……….. Scam is all it is.. This who mess is very sad.. I am also wondering when those who do not fit into the slim picking views will get their taxes refunded and no longer need to pay as he if possible would NOT have this group of people within any building supported by tax money .. or use any agency ….Very scarey as if he remembers. SAME thing happened to his religiThis view also reminds me of a family member who was so freaked out fearful when her girl played girls basketball she would make remarks as if her kid would catch gay by the choice of sports. I don’t understand the fear !! As for their Bible and or religion says to preach,help save by pearching..Well maybe saying it once and move on.. WHY be so judgemental?? If you’d like judgemental someone saw a pic of your wife called her a poser as in Look at me!! in several pics.. I was just as shocked at those remakrs as yours about others!! BTW I too am a Catholic. raised to know I was born with sin and could not attend church with my married parents cuz they could not afford an annulment.. BTW EVER see those judgemental papers as they relate to the prior children!! It’s why when I too married my marriage is not sanctioned by my faith I refused to send in the personal info of minor kids and I could not afford the $1500 to START to be married in the church!! MAYBE our church needs to reconsider so people would go back!! Oh I almost forgot.. the trans person I speak of.. guess what.. goes to a local Catholic church and IS accpeted!! as they are!! Blessings to THAT Priest!! MAYBE Mr Brennen could speak with him and it would help ease his fears of cathcing or going to hell for not converting people.. Which BTW is’nt concersion stuff a form of ABUSE?? Physical and mental?? Well here it is Mr brennen for you Please consider basic free meal to break bread.. help ease your fears.. Thank You Christina for standing unlike the “”men”” in that room…. Sad just sad.. what a mess we the people have elected..Losers maybe as human beings?? Hmm wonder how they like being judged as they did to others??!!Loading...
Christina is right. I we don’t protect freedom of speech we will have things like this happening:Loading...
Painting of Ten Commandments removed from courthouse
Under cover of darkness, city workers removed a statue in August 2017 of former Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney that had been on the State House’s front lawn for 145 years. Taney authored the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision, which held that African-Americans could not be U.S. citizens. The city’s Republican mayor said through a spokesman that it was removed “as a matter of public safety.”
The statues of four people with ties to the Confederacy – Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnson, John H. Reagan and former Texas Gov. James Stephen Hogg – were removed from pedestals on the University of Texas campus on Aug. 17, 2017. UT’s president said in a written statement the deadly clashes in Charlottesville made it clear “Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.” Separately, a 1,200-pound bronze statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis that was removed from UT’s campus in 2015 has now returned to the campus, at the Briscoe Center for American History.
The Austin school board voted to strip Confederate names from five district schools, though they haven’t been renamed yet. The board had previously renamed Robert E. Lee Elementary School in 2016.
The Austin City Council approved renaming Robert E. Lee Road and Jeff Davis Avenue.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh told reporters she wanted to move “quickly and quietly” to take down four Confederate statues or monuments – statues of Lee and Thomas, J. “Stonewall” Jackson and monuments for Confederate Soldiers and Sailors and Confederate Women – from the city’s public spaces. Although the plan had been in the works since June 2017, the Baltimore City Council approved it only two days after the deadly events in Charlottesville. On March 10, 2018, the space where the Confederate statues had stood was rededicated to abolitionist and civil rights pioneer Harriet Tubman.
Mantee County removed a Confederate soldiers memorial obelisk on Aug. 24 after the city commission voted 4-3 to take it down and place it in storage. The monument, which had stood there for more than 90 years, was accidentally broken into two pieces when city workers removed it. The removal came after days of protests from residents and activists, most of whom were in favor of taking it down, and it cost $12,700 to remove.
Plaques honoring Lee were removed from an episcopal church’s property on Aug. 16, 2017 and the governor called on the Army to remove the names of Lee and another Confederate general from the streets around a nearby fort. “It was very easy for us to say, ‘OK, we’ll take the plaques down,’” said Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, who called them “offensive to the community.” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for a review of all the city’s public art to identify “symbols of hate” for possible removal.
A bronze statue of Robert E. Lee, formally called the Robert Edward Lee Sculpture, was removed in mid-September 2017 from Robert E. Lee Park, which was also named in honor of the Confederate general. The Dallas City Council voted 13-1 to remove the statue, which has stood in Lee Park for 81 years.
The park was dedicated to Lee by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936 during a renaming ceremony of the park.
Daytona Beach, Fla.
Three Confederate monuments were removed from a city park Friday morning. A city spokesperson said the plaques were going to be cleaned up and taken to a nearby museum. The decision to remove them did not require public input, the spokes-person told FOX35, because they were donated and not purchased with taxpayer funds.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Protesters toppled the “Silent Sam” statue that has stood on the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill campus since 1913 on Aug. 20. More than 200 people had gathered and were chanting “hey, hey, ho, ho, this racist statue has got to go.” In a statement, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt called the act “unlawful and dangerous,” adding that law enforcement were investigating the incident. The statue had been a source of controversy, with school officials claiming that state law prevented them from removing it.
A nearly-century old statue of a Confederate soldier was toppled not long after Charlottesville by protesters associated with the Workers World party. North Carolina Central University student Takiyah Thompson, along with three others, were arrested and charged with felonies in the days following. As the bronze statue lay crumpled on the ground, protesters could be seen kicking it on social media. A Worthington assistant city manager said the community seeks to be one that “promotes tolerance, respect and inclusion.”
A statute of Lee was removed from the entrance to Duke University Chapel on Aug. 19, 2017 and is set to be preserved in some way to study the university’s “complex past.”
“I took this course of action to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university,” university President Vincent Price wrote in statement to the school.
A monument to Lee was removed in August 2017 by Franklin workers.
A chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy paid for the removal of a monument to Confederate soldiers known locally as “Old Joe” that stood in front a building in downtown Gainesville for 113 years. It was moved to a private cemetery outside the city in August 2017.
The state’s capital city on Aug. 18, 2017 removed a memorial to Confederate soldiers that had been in a public park since 1916. the granite fountain, which was dismantled, had been donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. City Parks and Recreation Director Amy Teegarden told the Spokesman-Review that the fountain initially will be stored in a city warehouse — but it could be reassembled at a future date.
Kansas City, Mo.
A Confederate monument was boxed up in summer 2017 and is slated to be removed. The Missouri division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy had asked Kansas City Parks and Recreation to find a new home for it.
Two 130-year-old Confederate statues were removed from downtown Lexington on October 18 after the state’s attorney general issued an opinion giving the city permission to take them down and move them to a private cemetery. Lexington used private funds to take the statues, of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and John Breckinridge, a former U.S. Vice President and the last Confederate Secretary of War. Private funds will cover the cost of their upkeep in the cemetery.
Los Angeles, Calif.
A large stone monument commemorating Confederate veterans was taken down Aug. 16 from the Hollywood Forever Cemetery after hundreds of people demanded its removal. The 6-foot granite marker was loaded into a pickup truck and taken to a storage facility. A petition calling for it to be taken down had garnered 1,300 signatures.
A statue of a Confederate soldier was removed from the University of Louisville campus after a legal battle between the city residents, the mayor and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It was relocated to Brandenburg, Kentucky, which hosts Civil War reenactments.
A plaque honoring Confederate soldiers was removed Aug. 17 from a cemetery not long after residents and city leaders began calling for it to be taken down. “The Civil War was an act of insurrection and treason and a defense of the deplorable practice of slavery,” said Mayor Paul Soglin in a statement. “The monuments in question were connected to that action and we do not need them on city property.”
Crews removed two Confederate statues from Memphis parks on Dec. 20 after the city sold them to a private entity. The City Council voted unanimously earlier in the day to sell both Health Sciences and Fourth Bluff Parks where the Confederate statues, of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, were located.
The legendary Ryman Auditorium, where stars like Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn made their Grand Ole Opry debuts, quietly moved a sign on Sept. 21 hanging from the venue’s upper level that read “1897 Confederate Gallery.” Honoring an 1897 reunion of Confederate veterans at the Ryman, the sign had been shrouded over the years but has now been permanently removed from the main auditorium and added to a museum exhibit that explains the history of the 125-year-old music hall.
New Orleans, La.
New Orleans city workers removed four monuments in April dedicated to the Confederacy and opponents of Reconstruction. The city council had declared the monuments a public nuisance. The monuments removed were of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, Davis and Lee. Also removed was the Liberty Place Monument, which commemorated a Reconstruction Era white supremacist attack on the city’s integrated police force. The mayor plans to replace them with new fountains and an American flag.
New York, N.Y.
Busts of Lee and Jackson were removed overnight on Aug. 17 from the Hall of Fame for Great Americans at Bronx Community College. Prior to its removal, Bronx Borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. had said “there is nothing great about two men who committed treason against the United States to fight to keep the institution of slavery in tact.”
A Confederate statue known as “Johnny Reb” was moved in June 2017 by officials from Lake Eola Park to Greenwood Cemetery in response to public outcry about it being symbolic of hate and white supremacy. A spokesperson for Orlando’s mayor told Fox News that city officials are working with historians on a new inscription to put the monument “in proper historical perspective.”
The Richmond school board voted 6-1 on June 18, 2018 to rename J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School to Barack Obama Elementary School. The process began several months prior and involved input from students, teachers, administrators and local stakeholders. Virginia is home to the largest number of Confederate monuments and symbols in the country.
A 13-ton bronze Confederate statue that had stood for decades next to Rockville’s Red Brick Courthouse was relocated in July next to a privately run Potomac River ferry named for a Confederate general. The relocation cost about $100,000, according to the Washington Post.
San Diego, Calif.
A plaque honoring Davis was quietly removed Aug. 16, 2017 from a downtown park. “This morning I ordered the immediate removal of a plaque honoring the Confederacy at Horton Plaza Park,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer told the Los Angeles Times. “San Diegans stand together against Confederate symbols of division.”
San Antonio, Texas
A Confederate statue was removed from Travis Park overnight Sept. 1, 2017 after the City Council voted 10-1 in favor of taking it down the previous day. There were no protesters during or after the removal, according to local media reports. “This is, without context, a monument that glorifies the causes of the Confederacy, and that’s not something that a modern city needs to have in a public square,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg following the council vote.
San Antonio, Texas
A Jefferson Davis highway marker was removed in 2016.
St. Louis, Mo.
The Missouri Civil War Museum oversaw the removal in late June 2017 of a 32-foot granite and bronze monument from Forest Park, where it had stood for 103 years. It shouldered the costs of removal and will hold the monument in storage until a new home can be found for it. The agreement stipulates the monument can be re-displayed at a Civil War museum, battlefield or cemetery. In Boone County, a rock with a plaque honoring Confederate soldiers that had been removed from the University of Missouri campus was relocated a second time after the Charleston AEM church massacre to a historic site commemorating a nearby Civil War battle.
St. Petersburg, Fla.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman ordered city workers to remove a bronze Confederate marker at noon on Aug. 15, 2017 after determining that it was on city property. It’s being held in storage until a new home can be found for it. “The plaque recognizing a highway named after Stonewall Jackson has been removed and we will attempt to locate its owner,” Kriseman said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times.
The stewards of the National Mall announced this week that the exhibit alongside the Thomas Jefferson Memorial will be updated to showcase his status as both one of the country’s founders and a slaveholder. “We can reflect the momentous contributions of someone like Thomas Jefferson, but also consider carefully the complexity of who he was,” an official with the Trust told the Washington Examiner. “And that’s not reflected right now in the exhibits.”
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker introduced a bill in Sept. 2017 to remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol Building.
The National Cathedral voted that same month to take down two stained-glass windows of Confederate generals. The removal could take a few days and workers seen putting up scaffolding around the windows to start the process.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, signed a bill to replace a statue of a Confederate general at the U.S. Capitol with one of Mary McLeod Bethune, a black woman who founded a school that became Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida. She’ll become the first black female to be honored in Statuary Hall.
Worthington removed a historic marker Aug. 18 outside the former home of a Confederate general.
It’s ironic that someone calling for transparency won’t post under his own name, no? Anyway, your diatribe has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue about the library program. Most of those confederate monuments were put up during Jim Crow as a way to continue to glorify slavey and white supremecy. If in a now more enlightened time people choose to take down those monuments that’s a choice of what in our history we do or do not want to celebrate, not a violation first amendment. I really wonder what it is about confederate monuments that is so sacred to you. Would you have a problem with monuments to Rommel or Stalin being taken down?Loading...
1) 1) Yes, anonymously posting under a “Transparency” moniker, is indeed, ironic.Loading...
2) 2) The various Civil War monuments being removed are unrelated to this issue (as are the following points, but since they were already raised)……
3) 3) Civil War monuments to Confederate leaders like Lee are indeed similar to Hitler, Stalin or Saddam Hussein statues.
4) 4) However, monuments and memorials to Confederate SOLDIERS and SURVIVORS are not the same as leaders, and it is as much a disservice to humanity to remove that history as it would be to remove reminders of the Holocaust. I for one am not proud of the 3,000 Confederate prisoners who died under inhumane circumstances right here in Chemung County, having been deprived of clean water, shelter, basic medical care and food.
There are several differences between the anecdotes you highlighted and the situation at the Library District.
Most notably, aside from protestors engaging in vandalism- something I would never endorse – the decisions to remove, rename etc were presumably made by the independent government bodies that have the power to make such decisions. As I laid out, the Legislature does not have power or control over the Library District.
More fundamentally, libraries across the United States – including those in Chemung County – undoubtedly make content about all of these subjects available. In other words, there is no intent to shield this information from the public or whitewash history. Moreover, it would be just as inappropriate if our Legislature undertook actions to stop our elected Library District Trustees from hosting programming featuring readers dressed up as Confederate soldiers as it is to force them to cancel Drag Queen Story Time.
Something to consider…there is a reason why Germany is very cognizant about teaching Nazi history to its youth in order to prevent events from repeating themselves, yet does not adorn it’s countryside with swastikas and statutes of Nazi war heroes. Germans understand that it is important to learn about and understand the events surrounding the Holocaust, but not celebrate it.
The same rationale applies to many aspects of US history that are important to understand but not necessarily celebrate, as the independent governments you cite to in your post appear to have recognized.Loading...
I haven’t seen it to judge. But, I trust the library to put on an educational, fun and entertaining show for the children and the parents! Keep your prejudices at home.Loading...
What ever happened to the once very popular “Little Black Sambo?” Is it on library shelves? Libaries are known to do their own censorship.Loading...
You can check the catalog; it appears as available in 6 libraries in the Southern Tier Library System. Not every library has room for everything, especially as a material’s cultural relevance dims; that is why the STLS shares our materials throughout.Loading...
Are libraries known to do their own censorship? Examples, please.
Thank you for being a positive voice of reason in the community!Loading...