Last week on “The Wall of Separation” we wrote about a situation in Spotsylvania County, Va., where the school board voted unanimously to order education officials to remove “sexually explicit” books from school libraries.
There’s good news to report: This ill-considered plan has been scuttled. During the board’s Nov. 8 meeting, two members spoke openly about their desire to literally burn books they consider offensive. Those extreme statements captured national headlines; more importantly, they spurred local residents to action.
A week later, folks who live in the county packed a board meeting and let the members know they weren’t pleased. At the conclusion of the meeting, the board voted 5-2 to rescind the call to remove the books.
The two dissenters, Kirk Twigg and Rabih Abuismail, were the ones who, during the previous meeting, called for burning books. Abuismail is claiming he never called for burning books, but that’s simply not true. This was a public meeting, and it was taped.
My favorite comment came from a county librarian (naturally!) who said, “If you have a worldview that can be undone by a novel, let me suggest that the problem is not the novel.”
And let’s be clear about something: Despite all of the talk about “obscene” books, none of the titles targeted would qualify as pornography or anything close to it. Historically, terms like “obscene,” “pornographic” and “explicit” have been used by would-be censors to attack books they don’t like or volumes that deal with themes that make them uncomfortable. (In 1939, John Steinbecks’s The Grapes of Wrath was labeled “obscene” despite the fact that there are no sex scenes in the book. It was a disinformation campaign led by produce growers in Kern County, Calif., who were upset over the novel’s pro-migrant worker message). In Spotsylvania, the books targeted mainly dealt with LGBTQ issues. In other parts of the country, books are under fire for dealing with themes of racial justice. Some people simply don’t want our students to have access to this material because it offends their religious or political beliefs.
The residents of Spotsylvania County turned back the censors. The lesson here is not complicated: You have a voice. Use it.