Reading is fundamental. And according to one Texas judge, it’s constitutionally protected.
On Thursday, Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas tossed out a lawsuit against “Drag Queen Storytime” events hosted by Houston Public Library. Founded in San Francisco, the popular events feature drag performers reading to books to children between the ages of 18 months and 10 years old.
Plaintiffs argued the gatherings contravened library patrons’ freedom of religion. Their complaint states that Drag Queen Storytime is “brainwashing the children of Houston” by promoting secular humanism.
In an 18-page opinion, Rosenthal found the argument didn’t meet the legal standing for a violation of the Establishment Clause. “Because the plaintiffs do not allege facts that do or could show that the event is a religious activity, there is no issue of establishment of religion,” she wrote.
Rosenthal also noted that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate harms arising from the events because they did not attend them.
“The plaintiffs assert the very opposite: they purposefully avoided ‘Drag Queen Storytime’ because of its alleged immorality and potential to harm their children. Instead of witnessing the event, the plaintiffs ‘researched [it] online,’” she claimed.
Complainants plan to appeal the case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Tex Christopher, who has also protested Houston’s nondiscrimination ordinance and inclusive bathrooms at Target, told the Houston Chronicle that plaintiffs are “excited” about the outcome of the ruling because it “speeds things along.”
“We knew that she wasn’t going to give it a fair shake because this whole case is all entwined with her,” Christopher said.
The four Christian activists behind the lawsuit believe that Rosenthal was unable to be impartial because her mother worked for the library. Others attached to the suit include Calvin Miller, founder of 1 Team 1 Fight Ministries, and Chris Sevier, a member of Special Forces for Liberty.
Special Forces for Liberty has filed lawsuits against drag queen events in several other municipalities in conjunction with Warriors for Christ, a West-Virginia based ministry.
The groups have been involved in numerous other lawsuits related to LGBTQ rights.
Sevier filed suit against several states charging that if same-sex couples are permitted to marry, he should be allowed to marry his laptop. Meanwhile, Warriors for Christ founder Pastor Rich Penkoski petitioned West Virginia to prevent the state from recognizing same-sex marriages.
The cases have been less than successful.
In fact, another case to which Sevier is attached faced similar setbacks this week. He petitioned to halt Drag Queen Storytime from being held in Lafayette, La. On Friday, the Lafayette Public Library announced it would allow the events to continue at its branches as litigation makes its way through the courts.
Prior to the decision, patrons hoping to reserve a room for special events at Lafayette libraries had to sign a form saying they would not be participating in Drag Queen Storytime in any way.
The ACLU of Louisiana, which sued to allow the gatherings to continue, celebrated the victory in a statement.
“The library’s unjust and discriminatory ban targeted LGBTQ Louisianans and violated our clients’ First Amendment rights,” claimed Legal Director Katie Schwartzmann. “This is welcome news for our clients and everyone in Lafayette who will once again be able to use library facilities without being unfairly interrogated or censored by library officials.”
The civil rights organization said it would keep fighting to ensure Drag Queen Storytime can organize peacefully.
“Over the past few months, we’ve seen the LGBTQ community in Lafayette come together to speak out against this discriminatory mandate and rally behind the values we share,” added Executive Director Alanah Odoms Hebert.
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