The ACLU of Virginia is aware of recent efforts to encourage removal of books from the Loudoun County Public Schools’ Diverse Classroom Libraries as well as books donated to 33 schools through the #BigGayBookDrive. We have serious concerns about these efforts and their impact on free speech. Since its founding in 1920, the ACLU has opposed censorship in all its forms. From books and radio to film, television, and the Internet, we have consistently fought to make sure Americans have the right to say, think, read, and write whatever they want, without fear of reprisal.

The First Amendment does not allow the government to get rid of or limit the use of books or ideas because they are controversial, unpopular, or offensive. Purging certain books from school libraries because some parents do not like them is government action favoring the opinion of some parents over others. Passing judgments, applying labels, and red-flagging educational materials that might prompt uncomfortable but insightful discussions are activities that do not belong in our public schools. In fact, bending to the will of any number of vocal parents could lead to a narrower and narrower list of books for students to read on a more and more homogeneous set of topics, adversely affecting the rights of those students and parents who want a more expansive and inclusive reading list from which to choose.

Book banning raises serious First Amendment concerns about content-based discrimination and censorship of controversial literature or texts. According to Texas v. Johnson (1989), schools are prohibited from discriminating against “the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” This includes teachers and school officials singling out certain books based on passages they subjectively deem to be inappropriate because of the overbroad and potentially prejudicial labeling of these books. Many literary classics, including “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Slaughterhouse Five,” and “Brave New World” could be labeled as such when decontextualized passages are flagged and the wider themes of the works are ignored. Vague terms to label potentially controversial books provide no guidance on the topic and only encourage some parents to forbid their children from reading the books without knowing much more about them other than an arbitrary label attached to it.

Finally, such censorship is counter to LCPS’s commitment to providing access to diverse text collections for all students. The Diverse Classroom Libraries K-12 initiative resulted from “the collaboration of LCPS teachers, librarians, administrators, and classroom book collection specialist teams trained to identify culturally responsive and diverse texts” and considered several criteria in making their selections, “including representation, authorship, relevance to students’ lives, authentic voice, and developmental appropriateness.” By shielding students from these books, educators miss out on opportunities to engage in a dialogue about the historical period in which a book was written, the author’s individual viewpoints, and the use of literary devices, all of which may play a part in how a group or individual is depicted.

The ACLU has always vigilantly defended the First Amendment and the right to free speech. We believe in an educated citizenry and a society where ideas are openly disseminated, discussed, and debated. Throughout our hundred-year history, we have worked to protect the right to access information, and the right to make up your own mind. We urge the School Board and all school administrators to reject calls to remove books and keep censorship out of Virginia’s public schools. Please do not hesitate to contact the ACLU if you have any questions about these issues or if we can be of any assistance to you in evaluating and formulating school policy on any of these matters.

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga

Executive Director

ACLU Virginia

 

(20) comments

Lawman

As long as parents get notice as to what books are in the class and can opt their kid in or out on the books they want them to read, then go for it. If your helicopter is not close enough to the ground to monitor everything your child reads or sees, then improve your flying skills. But banning books is un-American.

amerigirl

Chicken, WHAT???? You have gone from reading a book to acting out a murder? That is unbelievable. Do you believe mature people kill other people? Do you even think most mature people even think about killing other people? Who is Amygirl, or are you taking a stab at trying to make fun of something? If so, it didn’t work. You don’t seem to know much about parenting or what parents do. If you believe that reading some is going to make someone perverted than you have no faith in humanity and I feel sorry for you. Decency is how you act and how you interact. If you are a good person then people will know you are decent. There is nothing that is going to make our children and grandchildren perverted unless they were already that way. People make choices, and a parent helps guide them toward making the right choice. The reason so many people go wild in college is because of others limiting their exposure beforehand. If you have brought your child up right and let them test the waters with your guidance and let them know that they can always come to you with questions or to talk about anything your chances of turning out a decent, productive, and well-adjusted person are pretty great. There will always be some exceptions. Maybe you missed my post about starting a petition for kids to opt out if the parent feels it is against their beliefs.

ChickenChucker

When I was in college (yeah, I'm old) there was a book on a suggested reading list named Candy by Southern and Hoffenberg, Check it out and ask yourself if this is the kind of book you want your children reading in Public School, after all it is a famous book in English lit and satire. Then check to see how many ACLU members with children would have it in their home library. I would bet, not a one. How many of you would get this book for your teenager?

amerigirl

I would hope that by college you were mature enough to handle that type of satire. Think of some of the things people in college are already doing.

ChickenChucker

No satire about it, it was pure porn and the professors admitted it, even the authors admitted it. They acknowledged that they wrote it as porn and that is how they made their living. Do you mean since people are mature enough in college to kill people that it is alright to to murder. Is that why killing goes on on college campuses? You have a right to read those kinds of books if you choose to do so, and you must be in the majority or nobody reads the LTM anymore. I would expect Amygirl to disagree with everything; but are there no parents that care about what their children read, are there no self respecting teachers left in Loudoun that care about their students, What about the clergy, did they forget their way. Sorry for being so harsh but it is time for people to wake up and show a little common decency. Disagree with me and show me where I am wrong to oppose our children and grand children being perverted. It is a dangerous society that we live in. If you want to call me something nasty, go ahead. Please avoid immature remarks like amygirl. Don't let the ACLU tell you its alright for your children to read trash. It's a perverted world we live in these days, but parents were made to show their children the way they should go, not the ACLU, not LCPS, and not their teachers. I conceded to amygirl, but is there one person out there that might agree with me?

amerigirl

That book isn't going to be in a Loudoun school, why worry about it? Like you said, you were in college, not K-12. Yes it is porn, but it was written also as a satire.

amerigirl

I have a suggestion for those who are opposed to the libraries. Why not start a petition to have a opt-out form created that can keep your children from using the libraries? I doubt they will stop the libraries since they haven’t had enough time to get an accurate read on if they are helpful of not. But if there is an opt out signed by a parent then the teacher would have to abide by it. I would also suggest the in the petition you make it as simple as possible stating that you feel that not all children mature at the same rate and not all children are ready for the literature that they would be exposed to. Also state that it is against the moral and religious beliefs of the families that do not wish to have their children exposed to the content. The petition could be placed on change.org and emails could be sent from parent to parent on how to access it. I think this should keep parents on both sides happy.





Ocarina

Why not start a petition to keep the nasty stuff out of the libraries in the first place?

SiennaS

Even in the rules to leave a comment under this article it says “Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language” yet we force 9th graders in Loudoun classrooms to read obscene, vulgar, lewd, and sexually oriented language in books arguing well that’s the culture today. If that’s the culture then why are we not allowed to post freely in articles like this? Can’t I post so everyone can read and educate themselves? How about no. Because it’s not classy. And it’s inappropriate. You can get flagged and have your comment taken down. So ACLU you are not right in this case, these books need to be taken down too.


Chris McHale

Sienna - the answer to your question is very simple. LTM is not a governmental agency. However LCPS is. I will also point out that no one is "forcing" kids to read these books.


Jml

Chris—great, lets just add Fifty Shades of Grey and line the school libraries with Playboy. After all, no one is PROMOTING them or FORCING them to read it! That’s absurd. There is a natural moral law component here—and there is some content kids should NOT have access to.


amerigirl

Who is forcing them? The books should be age appropriate. Have you found different?


Ocarina

The truth is, even if your posts are not sexually-oriented, or vulgar, lewd, or racist, if they appeal to Human Nature to argue against LGBT philosophy in our schools, they will be taken down. It is viewpoint discrimination, pure and simple. It is biased toward nonsense, and against arguments for sanity.

jke

Age appropriate!


Chris McHale

Much to the surprise of many people I know, I actually agree with the ACLU.


md5

This is about classroom-libraries, not school libraries, Ms. Gastanaga.  Conservatives lost the war to keep controversial works (including the sexually explicit) out of both public libraries and school libraries at least 10 years ago.  You can argue that was a dangerous attempt of First Amendment infringement by conservatives if you wish; what's done is done.  Today's battleground is not about censorship, but indoctrination.  The classroom-library puts these specially curated titles in front of students continuously at every class meeting, not upon occasional library visits.  100% of the Diverse Classroom Library list is to promote non-prevalent culture.  The list is generally fine.  Children should have access to reading material about races, cultures, languages, religions, disabilities, etc.  None of those topics are controversial at any level -- in the school library, classroom-library, or public library.







Two problems we do have: 1) non-prevalent culture being artificially promoted; 2) sexually explicit / transgender material being promoted;







I object to non-prevalent culture being artificially promoted -- or "celebrated".  Non-prevalent culture is non-prevalent for a reason.  If a cultural idea is better, it will advance on its own without artificially indoctrinating children.  That implicitly includes religious and political indoctrination, which have no place in the classroom.







Sexually explicit content is harmful to children, and transgenderism is a terribly misguided attempt at humoring dysmorphia.  Peddling sexually explicit material to children should be called "child abuse".  On the "unscience" of transgenderism, treating a child with puberty blockers or surgery is also abuse.  Neither those topics nor the advocacy thereof have any place in the classroom.  Liberals seeking to indoctrinate students are playing a dangerous game with our children in the name of free speech.  I don't like the experiment and I doubt the sincerity of the argument.


Virginia SGP

md5 is correct. Schools are not required, nor advised, to put any book that any parent proposes into a classroom or even a school library. Schools are not required to place books that celebrate and detail how to use dangerous, elicit drugs like LSD or PCP in their classrooms or libraries. Nor are they required to put books that detail how to make bombs. Both of these activities, especially by minors, are illegal.







Neither are they required, nor should, to place books celebrating statutory rape between much older men and young teens in their classrooms and libraries. It doesn't matter if some in the gay community want 13-14-15-yr-olds to have sexual experiences with older men (as they call it "breaking the taboo"). These young gay youth deserve the same protections that we should provide to young teenage girls.







LCPS has an epidemic of sexual misconduct by its educators. Certainly not all or most are involved, but the number of LCPS educators who have inappropriate/illegal sexual relationships with LCPS students is a non-trivial number. While some in the gay/trans community want to encourage more of these relationships, it is incumbent on the community at large to protect ALL of our students. Diverse books, yes. Sexually graphic and promotion of illegal, predatory sexual relationships, absolutely not.


amerigirl

What books do that?


amerigirl

Oh yeah, always the liberals, I can't even give your post merit, with that blame game. Do you believe it is being promoted or is it just there.


Jml

Amerigirl-re: your question on “what books do that” you simply need to watch the recorded public comment section on 9/24 or 10/8 of the Loudoun County School Board Meeting and you’ll get a nice sampling. Or attend the meeting on 10/22—there’s more to come.


Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.