Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Attorneys Send Letter of Demand to Coronado over Latest Library Programming Debate

George Williams, who became a U.S. Air Force pilot, reads about having a dream and making it a reality at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day event hosted by Tiny Patriots Story Time. / Courtesy: Rachel Racz

A letter of demand has been sent to the City of Coronado alleging that the Coronado Public Library is unfairly prohibiting local residents from hosting children’s reading events.

The issue hinges on Rachel Racz’s requests to host story hours for Veteran’s Day and the holidays at the library, which were denied. After the matter garnered national media attention, a flurry of negative comments were sent to the library.

“Will the staff please pour gasoline on their bodies and torch themselves?” a comment made via the library’s suggestion box reads. Last week, a police security stand appeared outside the library.

But Racz condemns those threats and says the issue has become sensationalized.

“I’m just a busy mom who wanted to create space for her kids to hear what I knew were positive stories,” Racz said.

By law, the city cannnot comment on the matter until the City Council has discussed it in a meeting. Library staff are employed by the city and therefore also cannot speak to the media, but community members have rallied around the library.

“Libraries are being targeted as the frontlines of culture wars,” said Carl Luna, the president of the Friends of the Coronado Public Library. “You don’t just get to walk in, plop yourself in the children’s library, and pretend you’re doing a library event. If they can do it, anyone can.”

Library policy states that all volunteer readers must pass background checks and that any religious-toned readings must be academic, rather than proselytizing, in nature.

 

But Racz says she offered to undergo a background check and points to a Hanukkah-themed story hour the library hosted in December.

That event was hosted by the library, whose librarians are trained in how to present information about a religion academically, a standard upheld by both Coronado library policy and the American Library Association.

However, Racz said she would have accepted a Christian themed story hour hosted by the library as fair — but it only offered secular Christmas programming, she said.

“This government entity cannot pick one religion and not the other,” Racz said. “If the library is sponsoring a religious event like Hanukkah – which I welcome – it needs to do other religions as well.”

The timeline of events

Racz first approached the library requesting to organize a story hour for Veteran’s Day. She is married to a U.S. Navy SEAL, and asked to invite veterans to read to children to explain the importance of the holiday.

The library told her that all volunteer readers needed to pass background checks. There wasn’t enough time, so Racz rented space at Coronado’s community center and hosted the event there as the Tiny Patriots Story Time, an event that has since grown and hosted other readings.

After the library announced its Hanukkah story time on Dec. 13, commenters on Facebook asked whether there would be a nativity-themed Christmas story time. (The library hosted a Santa-themed story time on Dec. 15.)

“The library, as a government agency, does not do nor is it allowed to do religious programming,” the library said in a Facebook comment. “The Hanukkah story time is not a religious story time – it is about the culture and traditions of Hanukkah. Just as Santa is a cultural, not religious, figure.”

Meanwhile, Racz had decided again to attempt an event at the library. She first asked if she could book a library event room for what she described as a “Coronado Family Holiday Celebration.”

The library responded and asked for clarification, according to emails provided by Racz, who responded, “I was planning to invite families and their kids to come read holiday books and maybe do a holiday craft. We will have a few of their dads and moms (local veterans) read to them!”

The library responded as follows: “Unfortunately, we will have to decline this request, for a couple of reasons. One is because it’s a private event. The only room we have available for private events is the conference room, which is limited to 12 people. You might think, OK, we’ll open it to the public then. But we also, due to strict City of Coronado requirements about adults working with minors under 18 in the library having to be LiveScanned (fingerprinted and background checked – even active duty military and veterans have to go through this process with the City) and take mandated reporter training, we only allow events for children that are facilitated by library staff or contractors who have gone through LiveScan/mandated reporter training with the city. I know it sounds strict, but we can’t risk the liability should someone do something inappropriate with a child under our roof.”

Shaun Briley, the library’s director and a city employee, declined to comment. Luna, however, said it is important that the library curate its content and ensure religiously toned programming is presented appropriately.

“No individuals get to dictate the programs for the library,” Luna said. “The library does that.”

Racz then teamed up with Jessica Tompane, who was a vocal critic of a Pride-themed toddler story time in June 2023 and has been fighting for policy changes at the library about what content is openly availably to young patrons. Racz said she had heard of, but was not actively involved in, the controversy over children’s programming last year. The pair enlisted the Burke Law Group to send the demand letter to the city.

The letter asks the city to resolve the issue within 30 days, saying that failure to do so would justify formal legal action.

“There is no question that the library’s actions stem from an overt hostility and animus towards religion, particularly the religious beliefs of Mrs. Racz, Mrs. Tompane, and other community members,” the letter of demand reads.

Incendiary comments toward the library

Racz took her story nationally, appearing on Fox News ahead of other publications picking up the story, which she said she hoped would put pressure on the library to resolve the issue.

“I’m not someone who backs down well,” she said, “and I don’t like to be bullied. The reasonable part of me thinks, ‘Whatever, I’ll just keep doing it at the community center,’ but the American in me thinks – a public library can’t tell me I can’t host an event because they don’t like the content of it.”

After the press, comments were sent to the library denouncing its policies and, at times, threatening violence. These comments were received anonymously via the library’s connection card suggestion box, which also accepts online submissions.

“Dear library administration,” one reads, “you need to stop with sexually explicit material for children. Vets should be permitted to read to children. If you are reading this, you are likely part of the problem in the country. Woke liberals have the lowest intellect and common sense in society. They are perverted idiots who should not be permitted to live freely in our country. Do us all a favor and pull your head out of your woke (redacted) and do the right thing.”

Just one comment expressed support of the library and its policies.

“I just read about your refusal to allow and active censorship of Christian and
veteran/patriotic themed reading hours at your library,” another comment reads. “It is not surprising that the leftist fascist Marxist communist mafioso bully and thug hypocrite army of sexually deviant, perverted, deranged, repugnant, bigoted, racist, anti-American death cult stops anything DECENT, HONORABLE AND POSITIVE from being presented to young children. Only your deviant, pedophile grooming garbage is allowed. You all are nothing more than genocidal baby killing, child mutilating, sexually deviant, human trafficking, pedophile grooming, family destroying, ‘euthanasia’ executing, not-a-vaccine murdering, world enslaving, bigoted, racist, intolerant, prejudiced, corrupt, hypocritical, depraved, repugnant, reprehensible, soulless demons. In other words, you are the ugliest people to ever live in America. Can’t wait for the courts to slap you silly over your illegal, unconstitutional censorship and denial of rights to ALL people equally. What ugly, vile, evil, disgusting, perverted, depraved, reprehensible, child destroying people you are. Ugly, ugly, ugly insane, sick people. Merry Christmas you (redacted).”

Racz said she condemns threats to the library.

Luna, however, believes the story could incite stochastic terrorism.

“The fear is that you create an environment where you have a national news story targeting some group of public employees as bad people, and then you get a rise of threats,” Luna said. “And as the number of threats increase, you run the risk of someone acting on those threats.”

Luna said that some people rallying against library policy are doing it from good intentions, but believes most are acting through political ambitions and are using children’s programming as a vehicle.

“Once you say you’re protecting the children, you’re demonizing the other side as anti-child,” Luna said. “That’s a dangerous thing to do.”

Library policy for story time

The story has generated plenty of hearsay, but policy is clear. First, the library does not allow people who have not gone through requisite screenings and training to work with minors.

Additionally, the American Library Association says it is appropriate for libraries to host religious events, so long as they are informative in nature.

The ALA also permits displays and programming that highlights religious themes – such as the Hanukkah story time.

“Religion is a legitimate focus of programming insofar as it reflects the interests of the library’s community and furthers the library’s mission,” the ALA states on its website. “The purpose of such an event should be to inform, educate, and entertain rather than to proselytize or promote one set of religious beliefs over other religious beliefs.”

But representation is important, the organization says:

“Libraries should strive to offer programming that reflects the diversity of religious belief or non-belief in their communities and to ensure that there is no perception that the library favors one religious group over the other.”

To Racz, both Hanukkah and Christmas should have had their own story times – and that the failure to include both demonstrates the hypocrisy the library displayed in denying her requests.

“I love the library,” Racz said, noting that her daughters visit the library twice weekly. “The library is the epicenter of this community. Literacy is at an all-time low in the state of California and the nation in general, and libraries are vital to instilling the love of reading in kids.”

She said she doesn’t understand how more story time events could be a negative thing for the community.

“Libraries are essential; they’re where we store all our ideas,” Luna said, “not just the ideas that certain communities or people agree with. Coronado should be better than this. We should be able to have discussions about issues like what is in the library or not without resorting to lawsuits and threats and harassment.”

Note: Quotes from email correspondence between Racz and the library, quoted social media comments, as well as suggestion box quotes, have been edited for grammar and spelling. View the original library suggestion box comments here and the library’s response on Facebook here.



Megan Kitt
Megan Kitt
Megan has worked as a reporter for more than 15 years, and her work in both print and digital journalism has been published in more than 25 publications worldwide. She is also an award-winning photographer. She holds BA degrees in journalism, English literature and creative writing and an MA degree in creative writing and literature. She believes a quality news publication's purpose is to strengthen a community through informative and connective reporting.Megan is also a mother of three and a Navy spouse. After living around the world both as a journalist and as a military spouse, she immediately fell in love with San Diego and Coronado for her family's long-term home.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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