Only have a minute? Listen instead
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

HARLINGEN — A pastors’ group is standing behind a new state law and is requesting Rio Grande Valley school boards remove a list of books they describe as containing graphic sexuality from their library shelves.

And if they don’t get their way, the group is threatening to file lawsuits.

So far, Pastor Luis Cabrera, national director of Latino Faith with the organization Remnant Alliance, has requested school boards including the Harlingen and Brownsville boards remove books on a list of about 600 titles from their libraries.

He also said on Facebook that he will be targeting districts in McAllen, San Benito, Mission, Edinburg, Pharr, Mercedes, Weslaco and Los Fresnos.

On Tuesday, Cabrera declined comment, Martha Johnson, his administrative secretary, said.

During the Harlingen school board meeting’s public comment period Tuesday, a group of pastors spoke before board members, requesting they remove any books on the list.

On Thursday, Marcy Martinez, the district’s spokeswoman, declined comment.

“We had a great meeting with Superintendent Dr. (J. A.) Gonzalez and Deputy Superintendent Dr. Veronica Kortan about inappropriate books,” Cabrera posted on Facebook. “HCISD has already started the process of removing inappropriate books from the libraries of our schools. They are working on a list of 600 inappropriate books that we gave them. They are definitely being proactive to protect the minds and souls of our kids.”

On May 7, the group spoke before the Brownsville school board, requesting trustees remove any books on the list.

“Another huge victory for our kids at BISD,” Cabrera posted on Facebook. “We had a great meeting with BISD Superintendent Dr. (Jesus) Chavez. They already started to remove these inappropriate books from the school libraries and they will begin to work on the list of 600 inappropriate books we gave them. It’s amazing to see God move and when a school district does the right thing for our kids. New policies and protocols will be implemented to avoid inappropriate books to ever enter BISD.”

A view of Southmost Elementary library Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, in Brownsville. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

In a Facebook video Tuesday, Cabrera referred to Texas House Bill 900, passed last year, which “prohibits the acquisition of harmful material; prohibits the possession, acquisition and purchasing of books rated sexually explicit material; permits the exclusion from a school library of materials that are pervasively vulgar or educationally unsuitable; and recognizes that obscene content is not protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

In San Benito, officials have been reviewing a list of about 600 books, school board President Orlando Lopez said.

“SBCISD has been aware of House Bill 900 and has been working diligently for the past month to remove any inappropriate books,” he said in an interview.

On Thursday, Cabrera released a statement prior to the publication of this story in response’s request for comment.

“The recent defamatory coverage suggesting that I am attempting to ban books from our community is a misrepresentation of the facts,” he wrote. “My goal is to ensure our children can only access resources in our schools that are educationally suitable and age-appropriate. As the United States Supreme Court has held, obscenity is not a form of protected speech under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has also held there is a compelling interest to restrict access to material that is harmful to minors to protect the health, safety, welfare and morals of the community.”

He went on to say that other material, like violent, sexually explicit or other inappropriate content in movies or other media that is harmful to minors that is not accessible in schools is not labeled as censorship or banning.

“As I have highlighted, it is the duty and responsibility of elected officials in our schools to provide educationally suitable material that is not pervasively vulgar to protect young minds from harmful material that may cause adverse consequences due to their age and developmental stage,” he wrote.

Cabrera continued by saying the standard of harmful material is different for children and that adults can access or read whatever they choose, adding that he believes just because a book is labeled a children’s book doesn’t make it so.

“The factually inaccurate portrayal of my effort to inform school leaders on harmful material that is included in their library or educational resources is misleading and unfair,” Cabrera wrote. “Portraying me as an opponent of free speech is (an) effort to label or sensationalize the underlying issue that obscenity or harmful material is not a form of protected speech. School leaders have a compelling interest to safeguard their community by providing appropriate guidance and protection of minors from harmful material during their formative years.

“I urge the media and the community to consider the distinction between censorship and protection of children from harmful material. My actions are aimed solely at shielding children from potentially damaging content on their impressionable minds and not at infringing on the rights of adults to read and access a diverse range of literature. I believe we can find common ground that respects both the freedom of speech or expression and the need to protect our youth.”

On Tuesday, Cabrera appeared on Brownsville restaurateur Robert Sanchez’s Facebook video, referring to House Bill 900.

“All we’re doing is going before school boards and saying, ‘Look, this junk is in your school. What do you do about it?’” he told Sanchez’s audience.

“Now we have the legal arm on our side and the legal power,” he said. “We have a legal team that is ready to sue these school boards if they don’t follow the laws of the land. Right now, there’s close to 700 books that we know of. It’s running rampant in all the school districts. Hopefully, they do the right thing. We’re going to give them time to remove these books.”

The church is “waking up” to fight to remove the books from public school libraries, Cabrera said.

“We’ve got to wake up to see that our schools (are) polluted by this junk and then we wonder why our kids are in the condition that they are today,” he said. “We are literally raising perverted kids. Anything that is sexually explicit has got to be removed from our shelves.”

Cabrera said school libraries include “books on bestiality, they have books on same sex people having sex, they have books on adults having sex with children. What is the business of the education system to push this perversion on my children? How is this educational?”

Brownsville’s Hanna High School’s library, he said, includes a book titled “Push,” a 1996 novel by author Sapphire which became a 2009 Academy Award-winning film about a 16-year-old New York girl whose Down Syndrome child was born of her father’s rape.

“How can a 14- or 15-year-old pick up this junk and read it?” Cabrera said on the video. “We’re raising a generation of perverts. This is perversion and we’re just fighting back.”