Two Children's Books On Homosexuality Pushed Into Federal Court By ACLU

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

WICHITA FALLS, Texas (BP)--The outcome of a year-long battle pitting the Wichita Falls City Council, area churches and other pro-family groups against Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union over two children's books that promote the homosexual lifestyle now rests with a federal judge.

The controversy began in May 1998 when members of First Baptist Church in the Texas city discovered two taxpayer-purchased books, "Heather Has Two Mommies" and "Daddy's Roommate," in the children's section of the city's public library. The 8,400-member church led a drive that ultimately convinced the city council to pass a resolution to move the books to the adult section of the library -- provided 300 library cards holders signed a petition requesting such a move. More than 500 signatures were collected and the books were moved July 14.

The ACLU responded by filing a lawsuit in federal court against the city July 16, citing the moving of the books from the children's to the adult section of the library as a violation of the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, in a temporary setback for the churches and pro-family groups, both sides in the lawsuit agreed to a temporary order that suspends the city's library policy and allows the books to stay in the children's section until U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer conducts a hearing on the temporary location of the two books. That hearing is expected in mid-August.

Buchmeyer will not resolve the ACLU lawsuit until a later, unspecified date.

"This is not about censorship," said Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church, Wichita Falls. "We're not talking about removing books from the library. We're simply talking about moving books from one section of the library to another."

First Baptist Church has been among those leading the charge to have the books moved. The church's 80 deacons voted May 12 of last year to urge the city council to take action on the books in question and any other that promote the homosexual lifestyle.

"More importantly, this battle is part of a much larger issue about restricting material available for children in the library," Jeffress said. "The ACLU and the American Library Association [the ALA recommends both books for children] believe that there should not be any restrictions on pornographic material available to children in the library."

Jeffress and the city council has caught the ire of pro-homosexual and liberal groups like the ACLU, the ALA, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

"The ACLU has never met a piece of pornography that it would not like to defend," Jeffress told Jay Jacobson, head of the Texas chapter of the ACLU on Court TV's "Pros and Cons" television program July 23.

Jeffress also criticized the ALA for supporting the location of the two books and offering advice on sex to teenagers on its Internet website.

"Its 'Go Ask Alice' site for teens answers questions like, 'What does semen taste like?'" said Jeffress, who is not the first leader among pro-family advocates to blast the ALA. Radio personality Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a member of the Jewish faith, also has accused the ALA of promoting pornography to children. Recently Toys R Us, the national toy store chain,
withdrew its $1 million in funding for the ALA. Jeffress and First Baptist caught the eye of Americans United last year when Jeffress preached a sermon in which he called for Christians to vote out of office any city council member who favored keeping such books in the children's section of the library. The sermon prompted a letter from Americans United's executive director, Barry Lynn which seemed to threaten First Baptist Church's tax-exempt status if Jeffress continued to speak out on the issue.

"You [Jeffress] want city council members to vote your way about library books you find objectionable, and if they fail to do so, you are instructing your congregation to vote against them. As such, you have issued a political threat and this is exactly the kind of activity that federal tax law is trying to prevent," Lynn wrote to Jeffress in July 1998.

In a news release at the same time, Americans United said it is engaging in a nationwide campaign "to educate clergy about the laws governing church involvement in politics. As part of that project, churches that violate the rules are being reported to the Internal Revenue Service."

The news release stated Americans United had notified the IRS of 14 religious institutions that attempted to influence the outcome of elections, including two churches and one religious radio station in Texas. Jeffress said Lynn told him that Americans United had not turned in First Baptist, Wichita Falls, to the IRS.

In mid-July of this year, six U.S. senators asked U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate Americans United tactics, accusing the organization of attempting to intimidate churches into being silent on moral issues that also are in the political arena.

Meanwhile, attorneys with the conservative Rutherford Institute have reassured pastors they are free to address any moral or political issue from the pulpit as long as they do not endorse a specific candidate by name. The institute, which specializes in First Amendment issues, has said it can provide free legal service to any church or pastor who receives such threats from the ACLU or Americans United.

At one point during the Wichita Falls book controversy, a leader with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation suggested that Christians who want the books moved are "irrational" and likened one area pastor's scriptural views on homosexuality to the treatment Jews received from Nazis during World War II. The city's newspaper, The Times Record News, in an editorial indirectly called for city authorities to take legal action against Jeffress after he took the two books from the library in an act of civil disobedience. (He paid for them and new copies were purchased by the library.)

"Daddy's Roommate" tells the story of a boy who has a homosexual father who lives with his boyfriend. Written from a little boy's perspective, it features a drawing of two men in bed with the caption, "Daddy and his roommate sleep together." Another drawing shows two men embracing, with a caption, "Being gay is just one more kind of love."

"Heather Has Two Mommies" is the story of a little girl who has what the author calls two lesbian "mothers."

Some legal experts speculate Buchmeyer will order both books to remain in the children's section. Chances of winning the case on appeal -- with what is regarded as the more conservative U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals -- are good. But in an ironic twist and in a blow to pro-family groups in the controversy, a May 1 election changed the composition of the city council and the majority now favors leaving the books in the children's section. As a result, the city council may repeal its present library petition policy. Some observers believe the city council will wait for Buchmeyer's ruling before changing the policy, making the issue moot and thus avoiding a likely reversal -- and loss for homosexual activists - by the 5th Circuit.

"We feel like we've done the right thing," Jeffress said in reflecting on the long struggle. "We've done what we've supposed to do. The city council -- as well as the rest of us -- ultimately must answer to God.

Reprinted with permission from Baptist Press.