Back in the 1990s, some Religious Right activists in Virginia got the bright idea to begin attacking America’s public libraries. The idea was to demonize public libraries in the same way that public schools have been successfully demonized by fundamentalists in some parts of the country.
The effort, dubbed “Family Friendly Libraries,” fell flat. Americans simply weren’t interested in allowing a bunch of far-right Christian fundamentalists to determine what books they or their children could read.
That doesn’t mean the effort is dead. Public libraries remain in the Religious Right’s crosshairs, as a recent story from Cleveland, Texas, proves.
KTRK-TV in Houston reports that Pastor Phillip Missick of King of Saints Tabernacle, is complaining about several books in the Austin Memorial Library. Not surprisingly, the tomes Missick has targeted deal with supernatural themes.
Apparently, the vampire craze that populates much young-adult fiction is still going strong. This bothers Missick. He is especially disturbed by the Twilight series and similar books titled Blood Promise and Vampire Knight.
Missick is coming to this a little late. The Twilight books are nine years old. (Ironically, the woman who authored them is a Mormon, and many people believe the underlying message of the series is conservative.) But he has decided to jump right in.
“This is dark,” Missick said. “There’s a sexual element. You have creatures that aren’t human. I think it’s dangerous for our kids.”
Sorry, pastor, but I think ignorance is more dangerous for our kids. I’ll admit I haven’t read any of these books – but I don’t have to in order to defend them on the general grounds that religious zealots shouldn’t have the right to determine what other people read.
I don’t doubt that some of these books aren’t appropriate for younger readers. That’s why I’m all for parents exercising sensible control over their own children. In fact, I think that’s the perfect solution: Go to the library with your kids. Steer them toward the books you believe are appropriate and away from those you don’t think are right for them.
Also, keep the lines of communication open. Introduce your children to the books you enjoyed when you were a kid. Keep doing that as they get older. Talk with them about what they’re reading.
What I’m not for – what I am adamantly against, in fact – is someone else, especially a narrow-minded fundamentalist, making that decision for me or my children. And I’ll never accept someone’s interpretation of dogma becoming the yardstick for an entire community’s literary access.
This is an old story. Back in the day, religious zealots attacked L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. They’ve blasted classics such as John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, J.D. Salingers’s The Catcher in the Rye and (ironically) Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
More recently, they’ve assailed the Harry Potter series, Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” books, Lois Lowry’s The Giver several Judy Blume tomes and countless others.
Every time, it’s the same tired argument: Young people need to be “protected” from themes such as “the occult,” human sexuality, modern science and so on. I think it’s pretty obvious what the Religious Right is up to here: They want to “protect” children from critical thinking, self-reflection and the type of curiosity about our world that an immersion into literature can give us.
People who read are often people who ask questions. They are people who think. They are people who ask for evidence instead of just accepting claims on faith. They are people who are less likely to swallow the rigid dogma and simplistic politics peddled by extremists.
I think you can see why that’s such a big threat to the Religious Right.
P.S. The American Library Association’s “Banned Books Week” takes place Sept. 21-27. A fun way to mark this occasion (and annoy the Religious Right) is to read a banned book. If you want to get a head start, you might find this list handy.