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There’s a battle brewing in Ridgeland, Mississippi over whether LGBTQ+ literature should be available in the public library, and naturally, Jesus is involved.

The controversy centers around Mayor Gene McGee, who recently withheld a $110,000 payment to the Madison County Library System — roughly 5% of its yearly budget. When the library system’s director Tonja Johnson inquired about the money, she was told that McGee wouldn’t release it unless the system purged its shelves of all “homosexual materials.”

McGee defended his authoritarian demand by citing the Christian God, as reported by the Mississippi Free Press:

… “He explained his opposition to what he called ‘homosexual materials’ in the library, that it went against his Christian beliefs, and that he would not release the money as the long as the materials were there,” the library director said.

The director then explained to the mayor that the library system, as a public entity, was not a religious institution. “I explained that we are a public library and we serve the entire community. I told him our collection reflects the diversity of our community,” Johnson said.

Apparently, the mayor was unmoved. “He told me that the library can serve whoever we wanted, but that he only serves the great Lord above,” she finished.

Obviously, as mayor, his obligation ought to be to his constituents, not his personal deity, but more importantly, it’s not hard to see the slippery slope of that argument. By McGee’s warped logic, any books that wouldn’t get rave reviews in a conservative Christian church ought to be banned in the local public library — a move that could theoretically exclude criticism of religion, books about atheism, or anything else that doesn’t sufficiently praise Jesus. There are always books in public libraries that are offensive to someone; the solution isn’t letting one person in power dictate which ones ought to be banned.

But stepping outside the realm of the hypothetical, McGee’s own demand doesn’t make any sense. “Homosexual materials” could be practically anything — because LGBTQ+ people are part of our world. What’s he against? Books that feature gay characters? Books by LGBTQ+ authors? Only books that include sexually explicit details involving same-sex couples? Whatever the complaint, the Bible is full of far more “offensive” content. There’s simply no objective standard here.

McGee did offer some specifics, though:

Based on the conversation she had with the mayor, Johnson explained that the targets of McGee’s demands are mostly books that touch on homosexual identities, themes and stories. The list includes books about incidentally queer family members such as children’s stories intended to provide representation to gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.

Basically, anything that might allow young LGBTQ+ people to see themselves in literature or gives everyone else the ability to step into their shoes via the characters. That’s what McGee wants gone. He doesn’t want readers to gain an understanding of LGBTQ+ people. He doesn’t want to generate empathy. He wants LGBTQ+ people to feel horrible to the point where they wrongly believe there’s something wrong with who they are. He wants to create a fake problem before, I assume, offering his demented version of Christianity as the solution.

McGee specifically called for the removal of The Queer Bible, a book of essays by famous LGBTQ+ people… which, to be clear, is hardly a “controversial” book. It’s not the sort of book that conservatives spend much time whining about when, in between complaints about “cancel culture,” they call for censorship.

All that said, McGee may not get very far with his authoritarian demands. The library already has a system for people to lodge legitimate complaints about books that may be unacceptable for various reasons (and may have to be moved to the adult shelves instead of the ones typically accessible to children). Furthermore, McGee just doesn’t have the authority to unilaterally withhold library funds. What he did was arguably illegal and unconstitutional — if there is a lawsuit, he has no legs to stand on.

The library system hasn’t filed a lawsuit; instead its board voted to take the issue to the board of aldermen, which has the power to make things right here. They voted for the current budget (including the library funds) and they can make sure the library gets the money it needs. Only if that fails will they take this to the courts.

I would also highlight what reporter Nick Judin, who first broke this story, said about the reactions to it. It would be unfair to use this story as a way to dunk on the state as a whole: “… remember that Mississippi is not just Gene McGee. Mississippi is also Tonja Johnson and the library board who voted unanimously to ignore his demands.”

If there’s any silver lining here, it’s that any attempt by conservative Christians to ban books — especially perfectly decent books that only monsters would ever object to — inevitably leads to those communities being flooded with copies of the “offensive” literature. If McGee thinks banning LGBTQ+ books will make them harder for kids to access, he’s in for a very well-deserved rude awakening.

Considering he’s served as mayor since 1989, it’s bizarre he hasn’t a learned a damn thing about his own community — unless he’s just suddenly pandering to a more right-wing crowd because that’s what conservative Christianity now requires. It’s not like he’s taking a firm stance to help the poor. He just wants to hurt LGBTQ+ kids. That’s what Republican Jesus is all about.

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.