They want to ban books – The Virginian-Pilot

One thing that people who want to ban books have in common is insisting they have no intention of banning books. They’re not book burners, you see, but rather courageous champions for children.

They always have some other excuse, some alternative justification for their actions. But it’s there, clear as day.

That’s the story in Virginia Beach where some folks – prominent folks, mind you, public officials and those who aspire to elected office – are actively trying to get books tossed out of libraries and even prohibit local stores from selling them.

They have several books in their sights, most prominently the graphic novel “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, but also books by Toni Morrison (winner of the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize) and Louis Gaines, whose “A Lesson Before Dying ”won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Their efforts are following two tracks.

First, there is a push to remove these titles from the public schools. That effort proved successful this month when a working group of the Virginia Beach School Board decided to remove “Gender Queer” from school libraries.

Being scared to death of what the kids are reading, rather than cheering the fact they’re reading at all, is aa long and cherished American tradition. But this decision contradicted recommendations from a board-mandated committee “made up of a high school student, a teacher, a parent of a high school student, a high school Library Media Specialist, a coordinator from the Department of Teaching and Learning and a literacy coach, ”per Pilot reporting.

What did the committee think of the novel? “Students will see that the protagonist is experiencing many of the things they do – growing up, feeling awkward in a variety of situations …” said one committee member. Said another: “For high school level students, this is a great fit.”

The working group, made up of three board members, concluded the opposite. That is their prerogative, of course, and as elected officials their actions will be subject to the scrutiny of the voters, so there’s some accountability at least.

Reasonable people can disagree, even sharply and passionately, about what should and should not be in a school library. Battles over what books are accessible in schools is as old as public schools themselves.

In the 1950s, school districts in Michigan and Florida banned “The Wizard of Oz” because it included depictions of witchcraft and the fuddy-duddies leading public schools at the time considered that dangerous. School boards at that time also banned George Orwell’s 1984, which hopefully helped some kids understand the concept of irony.

But the second effort, in the courts, is more sinister.

Part. Tim Anderson, R-Virginia Beach, filed a petition in April on behalf of a Republican candidate for Congress arguing the sales of “Gender Queer” and “A Court of Mist and Fury,” by Sarah J. Maas should be restricted because they are “Obscene.” They want local booksellers to restrict sales of the books to minors.

On Wednesday, a retired Virginia Beach Circuit Court inexplicably agreed, concluding there was probable cause that the books were obscene. The order by Judge Pamela Baskervill gives the publishers of the books 21 days to prove they are not obscene. That will be illuminating when even the US Supreme Court, asked to define pornography, declined, with Justice Potter Stewart writing, “I know it when I see it.”

Some might shrug and reason that it’s not as though these crusaders are trying to rip “The Great Gatsby,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” or some other triumph of literature from the library shelves.

But people who want to ban books – while always insisting they’re not banning books – are insatiable. And moving to restrict sales by private bookstores? That should sound alarms for everyone, especially purported advocates of smaller, less intrusive government.

They will offer justification and excuses. They will say they’re doing this for parents and for the good of the kids. But as long as this performative, grandstanding effort to ban books – from the schools, from the stores, from your house – is not punished by voters, know that it will not stop here.

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