The first pastor story hour to take place in one of the most liberal regions of the United States drew the expected group of protesters, but it also drew an equally large crowd of supporters.
The Chelmsford Public Library, which has in the past fully embraced and promoted drag queen story hours, played the unwanted host to the event on Jan. 14 with public library officials already vowing to change their policy to bar future pastor story hours.
The Massachusetts library approved, then canceled, then—saying openly—that only under legal threat did it restore the event.
A barrage of hateful social media posts linked to LGBT supporters preceded the event, the first of its kind in New England.
Support For and Against
Then about 50 protesters with some bearing combative signs calling supporters of the event “homophobes” showed up on the morning of the event.
But so did a crowd of about 50, which showed up in support of Pastor Kendall Lankford and his pastor story hour.
“This is not as unwanted in the community as some of these people would have you believe,” Lankford told The Epoch Times.
The same scenario played out at similar pastor story hours that took place in other parts of the country over the weekend, including in Ohio and Arkansas, which drew whole families.
By 9 a.m., a line formed out the door at the Indianapolis Public Library on Dec. 29 where Christian Minister Kirk Cameron held what is believed to be the first pastor story hour in the United States.
The event was protested against by a crowd made up of what appeared to be pro-LGBTers.
In total, the Indiana pastor story hour drew an audience of more than 700, by the library’s own count. It is believed to be a record crowd for any event held at the massive six-story library.
Like the Chelmsford library, Indianapolis library officials, begrudgingly lifted an initial ban against Cameron’s story hour.
Following the story hour, Cameron posted on Facebook that despite the crowd, the library never offered the use of its auditorium and instead confined the event to a library reading room.
“Sadly, this beautiful library has a large auditorium that seats more people but leadership never offered it to us or even told us about it!” wrote Cameron.
Lankford, a pastor at the Shepherd’s Church in Chelmsford, said he does not understand the hatefulness shown towards pastor story hours when there is not a single mention of anything “anti” at them.
He admits the idea for them was “in direct answer” to drag queen story hours, but says they are “based on beliefs, just like the beliefs spread at drag queen story hours.”
Among the books Lankford read at the Chelmsford public library include “God Made Boys and Girls: Helping Children Understand the Gift of Gender” and “Jesus And My Gender.”
Cameron, an actor known for his days as a teenager in the 1980s through the early 1990s TV sitcom Growing Pains read from his book “As You Grow,” a faith-based children’s book filled with biblical metaphors based on the journey of an acorn that grows into a tree.
The books are in stark contrast to the titles read at drag queen story hours, which include “The Gender Wheel,” “Bye Bye, Binary,” and “The Hips On the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish”—a takeoff of the class children’s book “The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round.”
Religious Freedom Debate
Lankford said books selected for pastor story hour are based on Christian beliefs.
According to the nonprofit called Drag Story Hour, the books selected for drag queen story hour are about capturing the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood.
“It gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models,” the group wrote in its mission statement.
The group says it anticipates drag queen story hours to grow in popularity in 2023 with many libraries showing drag queen story hour as a planned recurring monthly event.
In the meantime, the same libraries that continue to warmly embrace drag queen story hours have been quick to publicly forsake pastor story hours.
According to Cameron, he has so far been barred by all but two of the 54 libraries he requested to rent space from for his faith-based story hours. Of those two, both drew huge crowds in support of the religious readings.
As more pastor story hours and drag queen story hours are planned at taxpayer-funded libraries across the United States, government-based resistance to pastor story hours at the same facilities appears to be fast shaping into yet another national religious freedom debate that has in times of late centered on religious exemptions denied from COVID vaccine mandates.
Landmark Court Rulings
In an interview with The Epoch Times, Michael King, president of Massachusetts Family Institute, which assisted Lankford in reinstituting his story hour event at the Chelmsford Public Library, points to landmark court rulings that government exclusions of religious groups violate constitutionally-protected religious rights.
In June, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Maine in its refusal to include religious schools in a state program that provides tuition assistance to families to send their children to private schools.
“The state pays for tuition for certain students at private schools—so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the SCOTUS opinion.
King told The Epoch Times that he sees public libraries’ resistance to pastor story hours as “viewpoint discrimination” and it won’t hold up in a legal challenge.
“You can continue to violate people’s rights until there’s a challenge. They have been counting on the religious groups not to have the resources to challenge their discrimination, but we are proving them wrong,” he said.