We’ve all heard this one before: a group of Christians calling to restrict the availability of books in school, regardless of literary merit, based on content they find objectionable or inappropriate.
The members of the Florida Citizens Alliance want to take it one step further: They think schools that fail to remove the books they dislike should be subject to prosecution. (Story is behind a paywall.)
In a petition that describes the situation “a critically important issue,” the group insists that materials found in school libraries — ranging from Khaled Hosseini‘s The Kite Runner to age-appropriate non-fiction about sex to popular children’s books like I Am Jazz — fall afoul of state laws against the distribution of obscene materials to minors.
Those statutes became part of Florida law in 2019, when the Alliance pushed for legal changes that would make it possible for any concerned Floridian to file a complaint against a book if they believe its content is “harmful to minors,” which the statute defines as:
… any reproduction, imitation, characterization, description, exhibition, presentation, or representation, of whatever kind or form, depicting nudity, sexual conduct, or sexual excitement when it:
a) Predominantly appeals to a prurient, shameful, or morbid interest;
b) Is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material or conduct for minors; and
c) Taken as a whole, is without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.
As it happens, many of the works targeted in the Alliance’s 2019 document “Porn in Florida Public Schools” — which they describe as a “well-researched and voluntary effort by many concerned voting parents and grandparents” — has been widely praised for its “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” As local secular group Atheists of Florida has pointed out, several of the books are award-winning pieces of literature; one of them (Toni Morrison‘s Beloved) even garnered a Pulitzer Prize.What’s more, the law is worded vaguely — perhaps the Alliance doesn’t realize its reactionary views are not the “prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole” — and fails to appropriately weigh the informed opinions of child development experts. Nor does it weigh the rights of children, particularly those whose families form part of the LGBTQ community, to access knowledge and consume art, even despite the objections of adults they’ve never met.
Nonetheless, the Alliance urges parents and concerned citizens to contact the state’s House of Representatives and Senate to insist that anyone responsible for making such works available in libraries should be treated like they’re sneaking Playboys onto the playground under their trench coats:
How is sexually explicit and age-inappropriate material considered free of pornography and non-inflammatory to a majority of parents? This is a critically important issue because laws are not being enforced… The legislature must see that law enforcement begins by upholding FS 847.102 and FS 847.001 and protecting K-12 school children. Your prompt action will empower parents and local community members to have a productive, ‘welcoming’ seat at the table in determining that the textbooks and online materials used in our public schools are in keeping with existing Florida law.
Atheists of Florida executive director Judy Atkins says the most important way to combat the Alliance’s attempts at censorship is to make sure the Alliance’s voices aren’t the only ones decision-makers get to hear:
The major objection to the books is that they violate ‘Judeo-Christian’ and traditional family values. This is clearly a move to force their religious views onto a government entity and thus on all of society. We encourage everyone to voice their opinion… While this religious group has every right to make their views known, our concern is that if the state representatives hear from no other people/groups, they will move ahead with promoting this religious intrusion.
While the group hasn’t ruled out legal challenges if the Alliance gets their way with prosecution of teachers and librarians, they hope it won’t be necessary: “Ultimately,” says Atkins, “it is the people who will make the difference.”
(Image via Shutterstock)