top of page

Book banning isn’t "liberty”

Instant Photo Poster
Stephana Ferrell

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Book banning isn’t "liberty”

Courtesy of covs97

A library's banned book display for Banned Book Week, Sept. 26-Oct 2, 2021.

Irony is standing before the Orange County School Board wearing a “WE DON’T CO-PARENT WITH THE GOVERNMENT” T-shirt while circumventing the process to challenge books you want banned from school library shelves because you deem them unacceptable for your child or anyone else’s.

I don’t co-parent with these women, and they can keep their conservative ideals out of my child’s public school. Withholding information from young people (who are wise enough to find it on the internet themselves) is their only hope for maintaining the rose-colored glasses they wish to view the world through — and there are big money conservative groups capitalizing on their fears.

These “patriots” attend seminars like the one held last month at The Rosen Centre — hosted by The Heritage Foundation, FreedomWorks and Florida Family Policy Council — called “Empowering Parents to Protect Children: Responding to Critical Race Theory & Transgender Ideology.”

Never mind that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Board of Education already made it unlawful to teach critical race theory in schools. There they were investing their money in the critical race theory boogeyman almost six months after their hero governor already slayed the beast.

Still, their efforts are working. Confused parents are coming before the Orange County School Board worried their child is being taught critical race theory because the Ocoee Massacre was recently discussed in the classroom. One in particular didn’t think it was appropriate for his elementary school-aged grandchild to learn about white people killing Black people simply because they were exercising their right to vote. These same families call themselves proud Christians. Their children attend Bible school and see Jesus hanging on a cross every Sunday morning. It’s not the idea of murder that they aren't ready to teach their kids — it’s that race was the horrible justification for the murder.

Then there is the book banning that these parents demand. There is a process in place to challenge books at Orange County Public Schools (OCPS). But filling out forms just doesn’t motivate the masses like reading a steamy excerpt from a high-school-level book out loud at a school board meeting, as happened with Gender Queer: A Memoir, Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel about being nonbinary and asexual.

Kobabe’s novel became an issue for OCPS thanks to the coordinated theatrics of Moms for Liberty  and Jacob Engels, a right-wing agitator with links to the Proud Boys, a far-right nationalist group, and Roger Stone, a political operative and ally of former President Trump. Engels read portions of the book at a school board meeting. When told to stop, he refused and was escorted out. OCPS responded to the situation by pulling the book from the library shelves before it was properly reviewed.

Antics like this are staged merely for the voters, but it's our children and society that will  pay the price. Fortunately, legal precedent is on the side of children and protecting their rights under the First Amendment.

In Case v. Unified School District No. 233, the process for challenging and removing a book from library shelves wasn't followed, and it raised suspicion that the motivation of the school board was unconstitutional. If it hasn’t been determined whether a book meets the obscenity qualifiers for unprotected speech, then the book should remain accessible until an official decision has been made. The Miller Test (named after U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Miller v. California) is the primary legal test for determining whether the speech qualifies as obscene and contains guidelines to help make the decision less subjective. They are:

  1. Whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest.

  2. Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law.

  3. Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

In Board of Education v. Pico case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a school board’s decision to remove books was unconstitutional and that the First Amendment protects the right to receive information and ideas as much as it does to share them.

Orange County's School Board might take a lesson from Fairfax County's in Virginia. There, parents raised concerns about Gender Queer. The book had been removed from high school libraries. But after a two-month review process by two committees made up of librarians, school administrators, parents and students, the vote was unanimous to return he book to high school libraries. On Tuesday, Fairfax County Public Schools did exactly that.

Critical thinking doesn’t come from censorship of ideas and information.

Parents should worry less about what is out there for their children to find and more about teaching them what to do when presented with information that conflicts with what they know to be true or challenges their perspective of the world.

Stephana Ferrell is a founding member of SPEAKUp, a group that advocates for a robust, inclusive and equitable public education system that is accessible to all children. Her two children attend Orange County public schools.

bottom of page