LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) – Social media buzzed throughout the week with a video credited by Lynette Mejía of Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s deputies escorting a woman from the main branch public library.
This has brought forth a controversial debate on whether the Library Board of Control has the right to remove people from speaking public comments.
“When I stood up to speak, almost immediately, I was told I was out of order with my comments,” said Melanie Brevis, co-founder of Lafayette Citizens Against Censorship. “I felt a lot of shock. I felt anger mostly, and I felt trapped. When someone, as a private citizen, is approached by two sheriff’s deputies. There’s very little that you can do.”
On a Monday meeting, Brevis was giving her speech during the public comment session, during which she was allowed three minutes. Brevis said she was addressing “a lot of the wrongs that have happened with the library board that the Library Board has created, really in the past two years.”
She mentioned how the board tried to fire a librarian in July illegally. “Cara Chance, who has been a long-serving and much-beloved library employee,” she said.
She said that she mentioned, “every single board appointment since our new parish council was voted in and 2019 has been people who have been very conservative, very religious people who seem to feel that a certain type of material does not belong in the library, or at least should be kept away from children even though these are materials that were written that have been professionally reviewed, have been published for children.”
Brevis also said, “I really see this fight and everything that they’ve tried to do to attack the library as really a recycling of history repeating itself. I mean, in the 50s and 60s, we saw White Citizens Councils that were using the same arguments about parental rights and community standards to argue, you know, against these school desegregation and civil rights, and they use the same kind of language to describe activists back then, that they’re using to describe us now. Troublemakers or we’re trying to bring an extreme agenda to the community, and that’s all stuff.”
The presiding officer of the meeting Robert Judge gave a warning three times to Brevis that she was “out of order” as she called out by name several board members, including Stephanie Armbruster.
After the third time during Brevis’ speech, Judge asked for her to be removed.
Brevis said she was frustrated and shocked. “It was clearly a very subjective decision made by Robert Judge. It was clear that he and Stephanie Armbruster did not like my comments and possibly, I feel, maybe were threatened or scared by those comments. But that is still not a reason to violate somebody’s right to speak at a meeting.”
News 10 also received the following statement:
SPEAKING AT PUBLIC MEETINGS:
In order for a democracy to work, the people and their representatives must be able to peaceably assemble to civilly discuss the issues at hand. And this is especially true when there is a meeting of a governmental body — from the U.S. Congress down to the smallest boards of the smallest village. For example, people who disrupt the civil debate in Congress, engage in personal ad-hominem attacks are asked to leave, and if they refuse the presiding Congressperson has the Congressional police arrest the offender and remove them. The taxpayers have a right to expect that their elected officials and the people they appoint to the necessary boards will be able to do their job. And the public has a right to expect that their opinions will have an opportunity to be heard at public hearings. They do not have a right to violate the terms of the agreement to speak and engage in derogatory personal attacks. People who violate the terms of the agreement they sign can expect to be removed, which is what happened. The Federal and state courts have consistently held that disrupters do not have a right to hijack a public meeting or to prevent civil debate. Mr. Judge was the presiding officer at the Library Board Meeting on January 09, and as such had the responsibility to maintain order so that the business of the community could take place. We desired everyone who wanted to speak to be given a fair opportunity to be heard. Within the framework of the meeting and the form that everyone who wishes to speak signs in agreement with the terms of that document, the person who had violated those terms was warned three times that she was out of order in violation to those terms as clearly stated and noted on the form signed by them. After the third time the person had violated the terms that she had agreed to by signing the document, she was asked to leave by the sheriff’s deputies. The people of this community have a right to expect that public meetings will be able to be held on their behalf in a civil manner. The presiders of these meetings have a duty to maintain order in these meetings so that the people’s work can be done, the people can be heard, and civil discourse can occur.Robert L. Judge President, Lafayette Parish Library Board of Control
Brevis said this is not the first time Judge interrupted someone from speaking. In most cases, there is a little bit of discussion, and it is resolved; however, not the same case for Brevis.
“I personally, at the meeting on Monday, did not feel like I should have to give up any part of my three minutes. Just because to be interrupted and questioned or told I couldn’t say something.”
Moving forward, she said the only way matters could be helped about this issue is for more people to speak out.
“An issue like this just doesn’t impact me and the opinions that I have, it could impact anybody and that’s kind of the larger point. We’re trying to make about all of these efforts to censor and restrict materials at the library,” she said.
She continued, “there’s a very small vocal minority that says these books aren’t acceptable, and we want them to put away or put behind a desk, but what they don’t realize is when you do that, it really opens it up to anybody challenging any material and deeming it, you know, offensive to them and if that continues to happen, what are we going to have left in the library that can actually just be out in the open?”
News 10 reached out to the spokesperson, Valerie R. Ponseti of LPSO, to get more clarity on the process for hiring sheriff’s deputies and actions in the meeting. No comment was received.