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Library cancels ‘Pastor Story Hour’ claiming church violated policies – then agrees to reinstate event after pastor lawyers up

A library in Massachusetts abruptly canceled a pastor’s story hour scheduled for Friday, claiming the church had violated library policies. However, late Thursday evening, after receiving public backlash and being contacted by the pastor’s lawyer, the library agreed to reinstate the event, the Boston Globe reported.

What are the details?

Kendall Lankford, a teaching pastor with the Shepherd’s Church, scheduled a meeting room at Chelmsford Public Library to host a “Pastor Story Hour.” The event was initially accepted by the library but later canceled “based on violations of the library’s meeting room and acceptable behavior policies.”

According to Lesley Kimball, acting co-director of the Chelmsford Public Library, Lankford misrepresented his plans for the story hour by setting up the event in response to drag queen story hours.

In a blog post on the church’s website, Lankford stated that he was inspired by other pastors around the country who have started booking meeting rooms in public libraries to host “Pastor Story Hour” as a way to offset the popularity and messaging taught to children attending drag queen story hours.

Lankford planned to read “God Made Boys and Girls: Helping Children Understand the Gift of Gender” and “Jesus and My Gender.”

When the library canceled the event, officials posted a statement on Facebook, which has since been removed, stating that “policies state that no proselytizing is allowed in the library.”

“In addition, publicity may only list the library as the meeting site; co-sponsorship with the library may not be indicated without prior agreement. The Shepherd’s Church’s publicity violates both of these provisions as evidenced by library and public perception,” the statement read. “The Library is pausing public meeting room use (excepting the small study rooms) until further notice in order to review policies.”

Lankford told the Daily Wire he was “disappointed” that the library appeared to cave under mounting community pressure to cancel the event.

Andrew Beckwith, president and general counsel of the Massachusetts Family Institute, sent an email to the library on Thursday challenging the accusations it made against the church.

“First, your interpretation of the library’s prohibition on proselytizing is demonstrably incorrect, to the point that your reliance on that policy can only be seen as a pretext for anti-religious discrimination,” Beckwith wrote.

“The clear purpose of the policy is to prevent a patron from proselytizing to other patrons in a way that is disruptive,” he continued. “There is no basis to believe that Mr. Lankford holding an event in a closed room, physically separated from patrons who do not want to hear his message, could be disruptive to other patrons.”

Beckwith also contended that there “is simply no evidence that Mr. Lankford ever indicated co-sponsorship with the library”; rather “at most,” the pastor indicated the library would allow him to use the space.

The lawyer demanded that the library reinstate the scheduled event, remove the cancellation announcement, and publicly post a new statement that the event would be held as previously scheduled.

Early Friday morning, the library announced on Facebook that the event would be reinstated.

“After receiving advice from legal counsel, the meeting room reservation for a ‘Pastor Story Hour’ has been reinstated at its original time of 11 a.m. on Friday, January 13, 2023 in the McCarthy Meeting Room at the Chelmsford Public Library,” the post stated. “The Library does not support or endorse this event and is not a sponsor or co-sponsor.”

“While we are pleased that the Pastor Story Hour will be able to go forward as planned this morning, the fact remains that in America a pastor shouldn’t need a lawyer to use the library,” Beckwith stated.

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