A Delaware school district recently voted to remove a book from a high school’s approved reading list over complaints about profanity. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth had been recommended reading for rising freshmen in Cape Henlopen.NBC’s local affiliate reports that parents objected to the book’s use of strong language, and in a 6-1 vote, the school board agreed.
“We don’t allow profanity in our schools. It is against our code of conduct and there is discipline for those actions,” said Sargeant Spencer Brittingham, the board’s president. “I thought it would be appropriate to not have it in our books as well.”But the school board may be concerned about more than strong language. The book also has LGBT themes and documents the coming-of-age of a teenage girl sent to a religious camp for “reparative therapy” after she tells her conservative relatives she is gay. In 2013, it was nominated for the Blue Hen Book Award, which qualified it for inclusion on the school district’s reading list.And the board’s vote to remove the book might not even be legal. The Board of Education’s vice president, Dr. Roni Posner, told NBC, “It was an illegal process to begin with. We should never have been taking that vote in the first place.” According to Posner, policy gives a school district committee 20 school days to make a decision about a book; Cape Henlopen’s board rushed the vote.They admit it, too. “If we had waited and complied with the policy, then we would have had children reading the book prior to the board’s decision.” said Jennifer Burton, also a school board member.The book’s removal also raises questions about the influence of religion on the school board’s decision. Although board members didn’t specifically cite a religious reason, it’s difficult to believe that religious views had no influence on their objections to a book strongly critical of a “therapy” championed by many in the Religious Right. The American Library Association keeps a regular list of the year’s most frequently challenged books. The most recent list, from 2013, reveals that books are typically challenged for reasons that have roots in dogma: homosexuality, “occult” themes, and unfavorable “religious viewpoints.”Among 2013’s top ten challenged books is Bless Me, Ultima by Rudulfo Anaya, which incorporates Chicano folklore and spirituality into its narrative. “And there was something in me that was telling me: ‘You have to tell the story of your community.’ These people are too important in what they represent,” Anaya said in interview with The Expanding Canon. “The culture and the folklore has to be in books.”And yet there sits Anaya’s novel on the list, one of the most challenged books in the country in 2013 (and 2008), for having “Occult/Satanic themes.”Other books to be challenged over years include sex education books (for being too explicit), the Harry Potter series (Satanism again), and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (for having a gay character). And those are only a few examples of books subjected to censorship attempts since 2001.Parents certainly have control over what literature enters the homes. But public schools are, as courts have repeatedly ruled, religiously neutral zones, and school boards have no business banning literature based on the religious views of parents.Cape Henlopen’s decision is particularly egregious given the real damage inflicted by “reparative therapy” on LGBT minors. The therapy has been banned in California and New Jersey due to the psychological trauma it creates. The strong language in Danforth’s book doesn’t negate the relevance of its message.A parent’s right to bring up children according to their personal beliefs doesn’t override a school district’s constitutional responsibility to provide an objective education to students. Would-be censors in Cape Henlopen and elsewhere would do well to remember this.