In Texas, a group called the Republican Leadership Council is asking that the local public library board pull a couple of children’s books from the shelves. Another group, calling themselves Mainstream Montgomery County has reared up its head in opposition, siting the usual stuff about separation of church and state and not imposing religious values on others.
In some places, this story’s been brought up by people suggesting that book banning is one step away from book burning. Hmm. Perhaps. But a search through Google shows darned few hard news stories on this issue that aren’t simply editorials. There were two, a Houston Chronicle article and another from the Montgomery County News, which take an almost-identical slant describing the “book banners” and the anti-banners. The only story in the Google news archives at this writing which does not focus on the “anti-censorship” folks was this story from The Courier. Everything else seems to be a bunch of editorials comparing those who have a problem with these books to Nazis, communists, fascists, and book burners. Most of the coverage is distinctly one-sided.
What should be apparent to any liberal-minded person is that every group involved here is attempting to ram their values down other people’s throats. That’s right, all of them. But the worst by far seem to be the “anti book-banners,” piously claiming to be fighting the evil forces of intolerance. Good God, what a bunch of turds these people come across as. No respect for democracy, no respect for diversity, no tolerance of people who don’t share their narrow worldview and small-minded prejudices.
Of course, it would be easy to misjudge. The news coverage is so awful, the editorials so hysterically over the top, it’s hard to glean a lot of hard information or a good grasp on the arguments. But let’s get a few things straight:
Removing books from the shelves of a public library is not “banning” a book. Removal from a library or a school does not make it illegal to sell a book, own it, or read it. Nor will removing it from public library shelves be “one step closer” to having everyone herded into re-education camps run by Pat Robertson.
Some people are gay, or have gay kids or friends, and want to see more tolerance of gays. Fine. Most of us are with them on that–wholeheartedly. Are they willing, in return, to have more tolerance for people who might have religious or other objections, who worry about what their kids will be taught? Or are people who disagree with us to be considered axiomatically evil?
So far as the fact that some people don’t find the books objectionable: hey, isn’t that the whole point? If a large segment of a community finds something offensive, who are we to ram it down their throats just because we don’t? To tell them they cannot trust their children alone in the local public library? That they have no voice in how their tax dollars are spent?
There are multiple sides to an argument like this. In a liberal democracy, shouldn’t we, regardless of our personal feelings about any book, expect a public library to be careful about what selections it presents to the children of a community? If more than a tiny handful of people object to a certain book being freely available to children, then elected officials have a duty to take their views into consideration. Furthermore, either way, those people have a right to their opinion without being compared to Nazis, communists, or be accused of wanting to turn the whole country into a Fundamentalist Concentration Camp.
To try to deny those who pay for a public library the right to input on what it will carry is itself a form of censorship.
A nice compromise would probably be to propose a section for “controversial” books where only adults could request them. That would seem like a nice compromise. There doesn’t seem to be anybody proposing that, but then again, very little is being done by reporters and editorialists to get to the bottom of the story–they seem to prefer to sensationalize the conflict, hoping to turn it into a real-life re-enactment of Inherit The Wind.
There is something deeply intolerant and closed-minded about people who blast others simply because they have different values–different ideas about what is and is not appropriate to freely present to children on public property. Let’s not kid oureslves: this isn’t one step short of Fahrenheit 451. It’s not about whether the “tolerant” will win over the “intolerant,” about “the enlightened vs. the closed-minded.” It’s about whether a local county in Texas gets to decide democratically what books should be on the children’s shelves, and how such decisions should be made.
An earlier version of this article was first posted on Dean’s World on 29 September 2002. Feel free to drop by and tell Dean what you think, or to comment below.