It almost didn’t happen, but Kirk Cameron was able to read his Christian-themed children’s book to hundreds of kids and parents at a public library in Hendersonville, Tennessee, thanks to an assist from local leaders.
County and city officials stepped in by providing police, traffic and logistical support after the Hendersonville Public Library announced last week the event had been moved to a nearby church, saying it lacked the capacity to accommodate the anticipated large crowd.
The next day, however, Sumner County issued a statement declaring that the reading was back in the library while asking patrons to “please be patient with the space limitations and traffic.”
Mr. Cameron kicked off the event outside the library Saturday by leading the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the national anthem, followed by two indoor readings of his book, “As You Grow,” published by Brave Books.
Sumner County Commissioners Tim Jones, Jeremy Mansfield and Matthew Shoaf posed with Mr. Cameron afterward for a photo.
“Great time today with Kirk Cameron and the Brave team,” said Mr. Shoaf in a Facebook post. “Here in Sumner County we will #BeBrave and make sure patriots can speak openly in public spaces!”
The storytime came as part of a planned 15-city nationwide tour featuring Mr. Cameron and allies holding library readings of his Christian-themed book as an alternative to the rising number of drag queen story hours sponsored by public libraries.
Joining the Christian actor in Hendersonville were Missy Robertson, a member of the “Duck Dynasty” family, who read from her Brave Books illustrated children’s work, “Because You’re My Family,” and former University of Kentucky swimming star Riley Gaines.
Sumner County Mayor John Isbell called it “an honor” to host the three celebrity readers, saying that “Mr. Cameron’s wholesome and educational message to the youth of our country and across America is both timely and important.”
“It is important that we instill Christ’s message of hope, faith and love in our children as a foundation for life,” said Mr. Isbell in a statement to Brave Books. “Thank you to Kirk and his team for their work in the mission field of our great nation.”
Brave Books and Amplifi Agency, which represents Mr. Cameron, estimated the attendance in Hendersonville at more than 500 people. The town is located about 18 miles northeast of Nashville.
Thanks @KirkCameron for coming to Hendersonville today to read to our kids. Thankful for you, brother! pic.twitter.com/RdPLvfPQQQ
— Matt Stamper, PhD, CPA (@MattStamper8) February 25, 2023
Prior to the event, Mr. Cameron pushed back on relocating the reading to a church, saying it was important for religious people to be able to gather in other public places.
“We aren’t looking for libraries to ‘contain the crowd.’ That’s been America’s problem,” Mr. Cameron said in a statement. “Good parents and the family of faith have been confined for too long in private homes and churches, rather than bringing their much needed virtue and values into the Public Square.”
He added that: “We’re gathering at our libraries not to be contained, but to openly support and encourage one another, fanning the flames of faith, family, and freedom. Once that sacred fire begins to spread in the hearts and homes of Americans, it’s uncontainable. So, libraries across the nation, here we come!”
Brave Books launched the tour after more than 50 libraries rejected or ignored the publisher’s request last year to host readings by Mr. Cameron, even though many had sponsored drag queen story hours for children.
Brave Books has been required to rent public meeting rooms at the libraries, sometimes at a cost of hundreds of dollars, to hold the events. The Hendersonville room rental was free of charge, said Brave Books chief of staff Zac Bell.
Mr. Cameron, star of the 1980s ABC-TV sitcom “Growing Pains” and Christian movies such as “Left Behind” and “Fireproof,” typically reads his book multiple times to accommodate the large crowds.
His illustrated children’s book chronicles the growth of a tree and its “trials and triumphs along the way,” but his readings have drawn pushback from critics on the left who accuse him of being anti-LGBTQ.
The comments on the Henderson Public Library’s Facebook page reflect the debate. They range from posts praising the reading as “wonderful” and “amazing” to criticizing the library for permitting Mr. Cameron to appear.
Public libraries may not prohibit groups or individuals from renting meeting rooms based on political or religious views.
“Why in the world is the library allowing a man known for anti-lgbt hate speech to have a platform???? I’m so disappointed in the library and our local government,” said one woman in a Facebook comment.
Another woman answered: “People are allowed to have varying views.”
“Hate speech and disagreeing with something are very different,” said the Nashville woman. “In TN we don’t cancel people for having a different belief. If that’s your thing I hear California and NY have plenty of spots available.”