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Moms for Liberty chapter sues library over free speech violations

Lawsuit says Yolo County Library officials censored speech on transgender issues

Sophia Lorey Photo courtesy of Sophia Lorey

Moms for Liberty chapter sues library over free speech violations

Last week, the Yolo County, Calif., chapter of the conservative advocacy group Moms for Liberty sued the county and two public library officials over free speech violations.

Since February, the group has reserved Yolo County public library meeting rooms five times to discuss and debate gender identity, resulting in repeated run-ins with library employees. According to the lawsuit, library employees encouraged protesters to attend the group’s meetings and looked for ways to enforce policies to make it difficult for the group to reserve rooms.

Tensions peaked in August when the Moms for Liberty chapter hosted an event to discuss college athletes who identify as the opposite sex. As 65 people filled the room, protesters heckled and shouted at speaker Sophia Lorey, a former college soccer athlete, as she began her speech.

When Lorey, who serves as the outreach director at the California Family Council, referred to males who identify as females as “men,” the library’s regional manager claimed her words violated library policy. He said if she continued to “misgender” she would need to leave the room.

When Lorey called males “men” a third time, the manager asked her to leave. Lorey stopped speaking and went to the side of the room. The manager shut down the event a few minutes later, according to the lawsuit.

“A government official shut down my freedom of speech,” Lorey said. “I was simply stating biological facts. … I was shocked and not really sure what to do in the moment.”

Lorey said she dreamed of being a college athlete since she was 10. She now speaks at events to facilitate open and honest conversations about policies that allow athletes to compete as the opposite sex.

“The issue of men in women’s sports … is something we are seeing across the nation. People are discussing it in policy. They are discussing it in congressional hearings. And we need to be able to have these conversations while also using the biological facts, the scientific, truthful language behind it,” Lorey said. “I was a college athlete, and if I was now 10 years old I would have not been able to achieve that same goal because our spots are being taken by men.”

In the United States, 26 states do not have laws protecting women’s sports from participation by male athletes, according to data from the pro-LGBTQ Movement Advancement Project. In July 2022, the Biden administration proposed including sexual orientation and gender identity in Title IX protections against discrimination, which could push schools to scale back existing protections for women’s sports. The administration said Thursday that it will announce final rules by March after missing earlier self-imposed deadlines.

Lorey had a right to free speech at the meeting, said Tyson Langhofer, attorney at the legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed the suit with co-counsel from the Institute for Free Speech. Libraries offer public meeting spaces where speech is constitutionally protected.

Library officials argued they could censor the Moms for Liberty chapter event because the speakers violated the library system’s code of behavior, which requires people on library property to “treat people, materials and furniture with respect,” according to the suit. But officials applied this policy in an “uneven fashion,” Langhofer said, adding that officials didn’t call out the disrespectful actions of the protestors.

“The people in the audience that were heckling them—they weren’t being respectful. They weren’t letting Sophia finish and then asking respectful questions. They were shouting and interrupting her,” Langhofer said. “[The manager] didn’t say, ‘Hey you’re not being respectful.’ He didn’t enforce it that way and that’s a real problem.”

WORLD reached out to the Yolo County Library for comment. Dwight Coddington, public information officer for the county, said the county couldn’t comment on pending litigation and is “committed to addressing concerns at the appropriate time.”

Langhofer said the county has responded to the suit and that the case may be settled out of court. The suit aims to allow the Moms for Liberty chapter to rehost the event and revise library policy to enable employees to apply rules more evenly, he said.

ADF has seen government officials try to censor speech on a multitude of topics through similar policies, Langhofer said. For instance, in Colorado, ADF is currently challenging a law that prohibits counselors’ abilities to discuss gender identity and sexuality.

Policies like these bar citizens from talking about important societal topics and impose governmental biases, Langhofer said.

“There’s debate right now about what types of policies we should have when it comes to men competing in women’s sports,” he said. “What the government is trying to do in this and in many other cases is control language. … The bottom line is that no government official can censor anybody because they disagree with their speech.”

Liz Lykins

Liz is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.


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