Banning LGBT Children’s Books: What Does The U.S. Constitution Have to Say About That?

Two Books

Soon after the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Obergefell, et al v. Hodges, which made it clear that our Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantees marriage equality, a community in Texas made headlines for both its clerk’s initial refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses and for demands made by certain members who wanted two LGBT-themed children’s books removed from the shelves of the public library.

Those two books are My Princess Boy and This Day in June.*

So far, the county library has declined to remove the two books, but the matter may be reconsidered later this month when the county’s board of commissioners meets.

Whatever those families may personally believe, why do they think it’s necessary to demand the removal of books that present a different viewpoint? Those who don’t like the messages in My Princess Boy or This Day in June can teach their own children to avoid those books without preventing other children from having access to them at the public library.

“But,” these book-challengers may retort, “What if those books are so irresistible that my children borrow them anyway, despite my yelling and screaming? How dare you try to brainwash my children with your dangerous, newfangled ideas!”

Well, as I discussed in Please Stop Parenting My Children, all I can say to those folks is this:

[E]xposure to many different ideas doesn’t brainwash people. It’s the exposure to only one idea or belief system that does. If the mere exposure to new ideas is enough for those old beliefs to crumble, then its proponents should stop to consider why their beliefs aren’t more persuasive. In my opinion, an idea that can’t withstand a fair debate isn’t an idea worth passing onto the next generation.

If you don’t like the ideas in a book–and trust me, there are books I don’t appreciate–then the solution is to present the other side in a logical, tasteful way.

Of course, there’s probably no use in trying to convince book-challengers that banning a book is more dangerous than exposing children to it. Let’s hope our judges don’t need any persuading on this point.

Our most recent case on this topic from our highest court, Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982), is only one year younger than I am and a mere plurality opinion (which means fewer than five Justices agreed on it).

But, for now, it is still our best indication of where our law stands on book banning. That means public schools and libraries, to which the First Amendment applies, may not remove books “simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.” Pico, 457 U.S. 853 at 872.

That’s a good thing.

__________________________________________________________________

*See Monika’s Children’s Corner: Embracing Inclusion @ Lovely Bookshelf for reviews of three great LGBT-themed children’s books.

**Did you read Justice Scalia’s angry dissent in Obergefell? Would you like to hear April’s rendition of it @ The Steadfast Reader? I thought so. See here.

18 thoughts on “Banning LGBT Children’s Books: What Does The U.S. Constitution Have to Say About That?

  1. AMB I think you sum it all up beautifully in your highlighted paragraph. It is narrow points of view, refusal to allow debate, inability to look beyond one’s own received beliefs that causes trouble. Happily I think we’re growing up slowly in that respect. A tragedy that the tendency is not extending to extremist groups elsewhere.

  2. I’m guessing that the people who want to get rid of those books are Christian. Yeah Jesus says that the highest law was love. This doesn’t sound very loving.

  3. Jaclyn

    Great post, as usual. Challenging/banning books simply has no place in a free society. And it always makes me wonder if the would-be moral police has ever actually met a kid. In my experience (babysitting and parenting, albeit parenting only very young children so far) there’s no easier way to make a kid want something than to tell him/her that it’s forbidden. Actually… Maybe we should ban all books! I’ll bet we’d have every red-blooded American kid sneaking off to the library within the hour! Heh.

    1. Well put: “Challenging/banning books simply has no place in a free society.”

      I also agree that the very best way to encourage a child to read a book is to prohibit them from doing it. However, it would be difficult for children to get their hands on controversial books if they aren’t available at the public library. That’s why it’s so important that librarians continue to resist challenges to books and that our courts continue to support the principle that “the Constitution protects the right to receive information and ideas.”

      The application of this principle to very young children is complicated. I’m still thinking that one through.

      1. Jaclyn

        I agree with you completely – librarians are on the front lines when it comes to protecting the free exchange of ideas. Teachers, too. (Proud teacher’s kid here!) I’m joking when I suggest banning all books to get kids to read. Although prohibiting something does usually backfire!

        As far as very young children are concerned, I think it should be up to parents to introduce these concepts when they believe their child is ready. And when a kid reaches school age, the schools and public libraries should be exposing them to even more diversity of ideas and viewpoints, hopefully. And ideally, equipping parents to discuss these concepts in a sensitive, age-appropriate way and allowing older children to draw their own conclusions. It doesn’t always work that way, but that’d be my perfect world.

        1. “As far as very young children are concerned, I think it should be up to parents to introduce these concepts when they believe their child is ready. And when a kid reaches school age, the schools and public libraries should be exposing them to even more diversity of ideas and viewpoints, hopefully.”

          I completely agree with you! I particularly have no sympathy for book-challengers who want to prevent their children and everyone else’s children from hearing messages that reflect families/relationships protected by our constitution (thank you, Obergefell!). Where it becomes slightly less clear to me is with other topics (not LGBT) where age appropriateness is an issue (like the rape scene in “Julie of the Wolves”), but even then I would never argue it should be removed from book shelves.

  4. Book banning is a big red flag for me. The great thing about living in a democracy with freedom of speech is that there are other voices, whether you like them or not. If you take the right to be vocal about your opinions, then give others the same right.

    1. “If you take the right to be vocal about your opinions, then give others the same right.”

      I completely agree with you. My hunch is that many of the people who challenge LGBT-themed books are doing it because they feel like *their* voice is the one that is being squelched with the recent civil rights rulings. By challenging books, they’re asserting what little power they have left. Hopefully, they won’t succeed. There are very good legal arguments as to why they shouldn’t.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Thanks to your blog entry I am now going to get my hands on “This Day in June”.
    We are a two mom and a toddler family and I’ve tried to get my hands on every single book that depicts our family and anything that depicts the freedom to be who we want to be. I love books that show diversity in all it’s forms whether it is race, gender, class, sexuality, physical ability, age etc. As an artist, I also have a special favorite of books that are unique visually. I must share with you my lists in both categories.

    1. I would love to see your book lists! Thank you!

      A silver lining of book banning is that the resulting media attention publicizes the book. I purchased “This Day in June” after learning about the challenges in Texas (I already had “My Princess Boy”). The controversy around these books shows us how far we need to go before discrimination against LGBT individuals and families disappears. The Obergefell decision is extremely important, but it isn’t the end of the battle. I’m a women’s rights lawyer in my real life, and I spend a lot of time teaching people that gender discrimination is still a problem.

  6. monikalovelybookshelf

    What’s really crazy is, the kid in My Princess Boy is YOUNG. He simply embraces what he likes, paying no mind to gender norms, and his parents give him the space to do so. That’s it. That’s something they find challenge-worthy, really? I wonder if that community looked past the title and into the book itself at all.

    (I haven’t seen This Day in June, running off to look it up!)

    1. You make a really interesting point about “My Princess Boy.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the challengers haven’t read the book. In their minds, the title may say it all.

      I purchased “This Day in June” after reading about the challenges in Texas. That’s a silver lining of book banning, I suppose. Controversy sells books!

      Thanks again for your great post about LGBT-themed children’s books.

  7. While I agree with you 100%, the issue really is getting polarized in this country. Before the new law, you just did not hear as much on the LGBT by the religious folks, even in states like NY where the marriage is legal, now the religious people must feel as if they are the ones having their beliefs questioned. But to push the banning of books really is going too far.

  8. Reblogged this on Pilgrim of Eormen and commented:
    Great point, never considered it that way before: “Exposure to many different ideas doesn’t brainwash people. It’s the exposure to only one idea or belief system that does.”

  9. It is a very good thing. My mother learned back in the 50s and 60s that the way to get us interested in anything was to say it was forbidden. She rarely told us we couldn’t read something or watch tv or a movie. She’d simply be there to talk with us about it if we had questions. These right wing parents could take a page from her book.

I appreciate your comments (respectful dissent is welcome)!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s