A Livingston Parish judge on Wednesday dismissed a libel suit brought by a college librarian against the owners of two conservative Facebook groups over posts they made about her earlier this summer.
Judge Erika Sledge of the state’s 21st Judicial District Court granted motions by defendants Michael Lunsford, of Lafayette, and Ryan Thames, of Denham Springs, to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Amanda Jones on the grounds that their statements were questions opinion and not facts.
The lawsuit stems from a meeting of the Livingston Parish Library Board of Control in July, when both Jones and Lunsford spoke about restricting access to LGBTQ+ and sexual health books for young people. Jones spoke out against the restrictions, while Lunsford came out in favor.
“I find it ironic that any member of the community would want to limit access to any book on reproduction or move it away from our children who need it most,” Jones said during her speech.
After the July meeting, the Citizens for a New Louisiana Facebook page and Ryan Thames’ “Bayou State of Mind” Facebook page published several posts about Jones, with the Lunsford group accusing Jones of fighting “to keep material sexually erotic and pornographic material in the children’s section,” and Thames saying that Jones “advocates teaching 11-year-olds about anal sex.”
Jones’ attorney, Ellyn Clevenger, told Wednesday’s hearing that Jones had received numerous threats of violence and a death threat since the messages. Jones’ lawsuit sought preliminary and permanent injunctions against the defendants not to publish about him, as well as a protective order and punitive damages.
The preliminary injunction hearing was originally scheduled to take place on August 23, but was postponed twice due to complications in the service of Lunsford and his attorney.
Judge Sledge said the court’s role was not to decide whether books in the children’s sections were inappropriate or overly sexual, and added that the defendants were expressing their opinion on the nature of the material and Jones’ support for it. keep it in the children’s section, so not defame it.
“It’s a shame that if someone doesn’t agree [with you]rather than articulate it, they do it,” Lunsford said after the ruling.
Citizens for a New Louisiana is a Lafayette-based group that has been a prominent speaker against LGBTQ+ and sexual health books in the youth sections of Livingston and Lafayette Parish Public Libraries. Lunsford, its executive director, challenged two books in the Lafayette Libraries: “This Book is Gay” and “The V-Word.”
Livingston Parish resident Thames started the Bayou State of Mind Facebook page in 2020, which has more than 6,400 followers.
Thames and Lunsford both argued in their motions that Jones had made herself a public figure when she spoke at the library board meeting and that she did not have proper evidence to back it up. prove that they had acted maliciously.
Public figures find it harder to prove that they have been defamed. A private citizen only has to prove that the false statements against him were made recklessly, but public figures have to prove malicious intent. Thames and Lunsford called the lawsuit a SLAPP, a strategic lawsuit against public participation.
Sledge said in her ruling that she considered Jones a limited public figure for identifying herself as an international speaker and president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians, but that it ultimately wouldn’t have mattered if Jones was a public or private citizen because Sledge did not consider the statements to be defamatory.
Clevenger said she plans to file an appeal with the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in the coming weeks, claiming the Lunsford and Thames statements were presented as false facts, not opinion.
“It’s a dangerous decision,” Clevenger said. “This sets a dangerous precedent.”
Since that July meeting, Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks sent a letter to the parish Library Board of Control asking them to remove “sexually questionable content” from the children’s and young adult sections; the letter was unanimously approved by the parish council in a resolution last month.
Neither Ricks nor the Council specified what content was sexually questionable, or named specific books.
The Livingston Library Board passed a motion in response on Tuesday evening to “express gratitude to the parish president for sharing his perspective,” maintain its current book questioning policy, and display well prominently display the policy in each library branch and online.
Library board policy states that residents may complete a Citizen Library Materials Review Request form for any book they deem inappropriate, and library staff will review the complaint and take whatever action they deem appropriate. necessary, if applicable.
Two books have been challenged so far, both of which have been moved from the young adult sections to the adult sections of the library. None of the contested books have been discussed in previous debates on the issue.