The freedom to read is fundamental to democracy, and extremist efforts to impose their personal discriminatory beliefs on policies that dictate what books can be in public libraries are dangerous for democracy. 

Prattville is a town near Montgomery, Alabama with a public library system that has four branches in the Autauga-Prattville area. The system is managed by a board of trustees, which is appointed by the city council and county supervisors. Last November, the town was rocked by extremist-fueled controversy when an organization connected to efforts to ban books around the country got a member appointed to the library board, and then quickly executed a board takeover that allowed them to pass a series of policies to restrict what books are available to people in Autauga-Prattville public libraries. 

The board’s new, harmful policies include measures that allow the board to prevent libraries from acquiring any books marketed to minors that include material on a broad and easily malleable “selection criteria,” as well as ways to use the arbitrary “selection criteria” to remove existing books from library shelves – including books like To Kill a Mockingbird and 1984, among many others. In addition to these classics, the selection criteria approved by the board have overwhelmingly restricted books with themes about and protagonists of diverse backgrounds, especially the LGBTQIA+ community. 

On May 9, 2024, Democracy Forward represented a coalition of families and librarians in challenging the Autauga-Prattville Public Library Board of Trustees policies, filing a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama seeking an injunction against the policies on First and Fourteenth Amendment grounds. The coalition challenging the law includes Read Freely Alabama – a grassroots group from across the state who connected through their concern about these policies, the Alabama Library Association – a chapter of the American Library Association and a trusted trade organization representing the people who keep libraries across the state open and welcome for all, as well as a group of Prattville parents whose families have experienced the harms of these policies.

Now, as state legislators rush to expand on the policies they are seeing put in place in Prattville, it is crucial that the courts make clear that in our democracy, you cannot discriminate, or restrict the freedom to read.

These extreme policies have unified a broad group of families and librarians from across Alabama’s political and religious spectrum. The broad coalition challenging these policies demonstrates how far out of touch the extremists behind them are with everyday Alabamians.