Stop the Presses…

As vehemently as I detest the current wave of book-banning in school libraries, I feel I should point out that removing books from libraries is not “unconstitutional.” The First Amendment, which is plainly what is being used as a guidepost by the opposition, prevents Congress from making a law that abridges freedom of the press. That’s all it does. It doesn’t even prevent state governments from passing laws that abridge freedom of the press. And in any case, “freedom of the press” means the freedom to print something. The Constitution says nothing about your right, or my right, or the right of children in a public school, to access what has been printed.

If the question has ever arisen in the courts whether the doctrine of freedom of the press includes freedom of access to printed material, I would love to learn about it. But of course the courts have routinely allowed the banning of books that were, by the standards of the time, felt to be pornographic. This is still the case in certain more limited areas, such as child pornography. So the courts have always held that “freedom of the press” is not an absolute.

Also, you know, if a person of the progressive persuasion spotted a book in a school library that embraced and promoted racism, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the progressive asked that the book be removed. And I would agree that it should be.

In sum, I think waging this battle on constitutional grounds is a mistake. The battle ought to be waged on the grounds that this is information to which children need to have access. Let’s confront the knuckle-draggers head on.

There is, however, a tactic that has a legalistic flavor. It would be appropriate, I’m sure, to confront a school board and ask about the procedures with which they respond to parental complaints. Those procedures ought to be transparent, and they ought to provide an opportunity for those who feel the books should remain on the shelves to voice their concerns. When a school board fails to do this, it’s clearly biased. Once the school board is on the record as using a biased process, you’ll have both a platform on which to run for the school board yourself, and possibly a cause of action that you can take to a lawyer and thence to court. Nothing to do with the First Amendment. It’s about fairness.

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