MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) – Controversy surged ahead of the Brave Books “See you at the Library” event hosted by the Madison Chapter of the Moms for Liberty on Saturday.

Hundreds stood outside of the Madison County Library hoping to gain entrance to the event, and nearly 300 more gathered at the second reading taking place at The Rock.

“When I was hearing they were trying to cancel the event, I was none too happy, and I’m really glad that they decided to make it go through,” said event supporter Samuel Brun. “First amendment wins.”

A few days before the event was scheduled to happen, it was briefly canceled after the group accused the Huntsville-Madison County Library System of censorship. After consulting with the Madison City Fire Marshall and other city officials, the library canceled the event when the expected attendance jumped from 30 to 300, citing the fire code and building capacity issues.

“Initially, the organizers of the event reported 20 attendees to library officials. On Tuesday, the Library learned that event organizers are now expecting over 300 people, a number that far exceeds any meeting room capacity within the Huntsville-Madison County Library System,” the library said in a statement on Thursday.

Actor Kirk Cameron announced he planned to attend the event for his fist national “See You at the Library” appearance. Attorney Jeremy Dys with First Liberty Institute, representing Brave Books and Kirk Cameron sent a letter to the library Thursday, alleging the library is unlawfully and unconstitutionally censoring his clients.

The firm’s letter gave the library until noon on Friday to confirm that organizers would be able to use the Madison Public Library for the event, saying it was prepared to take up the matter in court if it did not.

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“In short, whether over concerns of security or capacity, you have censored our
client,” Dys said. “It may be just one event—just a story time at the local library by a Christian
children’s book author—that you have canceled. Large or small, such unbridled
censorship impacts the freedom of speech upon which we all depend in this free society.”

The Madison Public Library agreed to host the reading, capping the event’s attendance to 225 people. The Madison Police Department and the Madison Fire Marshall were on site to help with crowd control. With hundreds waiting in line, and the Madison Public Library’s limit of 225 people, organizers prioritized most families with children.

However, one mom in attendance said she was denied entry, despite being in line before the cutoff point.

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“They did not believe that the child that I had was mine,” said concerned parent Emily McClelland. “I asked them, ‘Are you checking any of the other children? Is that your child, is that there’s?’ They wouldn’t answer me.”

She said she initially joined the line without her daughter who was already inside the library. When McClelland reached the front, event organizers said her daughter needed to present and that she could go inside, collect her, and return to the front of the line. Upon her return, she and her daughter were told the event had reached capacity, but she said she watched another family let in with several children.

“The fact that they told me my kid wasn’t mine, and they said that right in front of her, that’s painful,” McClelland said. “I wasn’t here to make a scene or be disruptive. I’m here because I want to know what these people are trying to do to the reading material that I think is totally appropriate and fine for my children to read.”

McClelland was wearing a shirt showing symbols representing LGBTQ+ pride, and she was there with a friend wearing a pride flag. McClelland said she believes she was denied entry because of her appearance.

Teri Elliott, who arrived at the library early that morning, also hoping to attend the event said she watch McClelland and her daughter turned away at the door.

“The police officer said, ‘It’s like a restaurant. They can refuse to service to anyone,'” said Elliott. “So I did try to take video because I was appalled she was being treated that way in front of her child. All she was trying to do was go in and listen to a book.”

Elliot did not have a child with her and was not allowed to attend the event at the library. She said she had hoped to hear the messages Moms for Liberty were sending out in the community.

Dozens of protestors lined the road outside the library in the designated “First Amendment Zone.”

“This is not about love; this is about hate,” said event protestor Nico Cunningham. “They have a right to first amendment speech and to use public spaces. We just want to make sure everyone understands that some of the things that they are putting in these brave books are basically telling kids that I don’t exist, and that really bothers me.”

News 19 reached out for comment from Moms for liberty about the event, and Madison Chapter Chair Emily Jones spoke about the reach of the event:

“Today’s event was a great success! When the library officially opened the doors for our event, we filled the capacity of the room of 225 within 10 minutes. Nearly 300 additional people attended the secondary reading that took place at The Rock. God’s people showed up in massive numbers today to show their support of Moms for Liberty and the Christian values of our community. Moms for Liberty is honored to have brought this event to our community and we look forward to hosting more events like this in the future. 

The mission of Brave Books and the intent of today’s event was to honor God and help parents instill a love of truth in their children. There were numerous people at the event who’s actions did not exemplify those characteristics. As the event coordinator, I made a decision to deny access to several people based on their personal actions that I witnessed – nothing less. I did not make any effort to review anyone’s clothing choices for today’s event, so suggesting I made decisions based on that alone is absolutely untrue. 

Today’s event is testament to the people of our community. Parents want to make the decisions on the upbringing of their children, and they want to do that based on Christian values. I’m blessed that God created the opportunity for Moms for Liberty to bring this event to Alabama. We received countless comments thanking us for our efforts and for fighting back to protect our rights to speak freely about our faith.”

Emily Jones, Moms for Liberty Madison Chapter Chair