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A fearful message

Published June 13, 2012 5:30 pm

Davis library book decision illegal?
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The American Civil Liberties Union has raised a new issue in the Davis School District controversy over the district's decision to banish behind the counter a book about a family with two mothers.

As well as promoting intolerance and bigotry among children, which it certainly does, hiding the book out of children's sight may also be unconstitutional.

In a letter to the district superintendent, the Utah ACLU affiliate points out that "Federal courts have consistently concluded that the First Amendment protects student access to books in their school libraries, free from limits based on the administration's disagreement with the viewpoints expressed in the books." Access to books portraying gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender characters has been protected.

That's a relevant point and one that district officials should consider seriously. The ACLU is careful what cases it takes to court. The letter is clear that the Utah group believes the district position is on shaky constitutional ground, although it says nothing explicit about legal action.

The district has made some weak excuses for limiting access to the book In Our Mothers' House, denying that its reference to homosexuality is the problem. Probably the weakest was that the acclaimed book is not age-appropriate. Officials trotted out that one, since that is the only criterion for school library book choices.

But the picture book's language and story line are obviously written for children of elementary-school age. Its critics in Davis County are objecting to the subject matter, not whether it is age-appropriate.

Another objection is that state law prohibits curriculum materials from "advocating" homosexuality. This book is not used in the schools' curriculum, and, anyway, it simply tells a story about a family with two parents of the same sex, and does not advocate that its readers give homosexuality a try.

Silly as it sounds, that is exactly what the complaining parents and school officials are implying about this innocuous children's tale.

Families headed by same-sex couples are becoming more common. Librarians who have opposed removing this book from library shelves say there are children in their schools whose parents are both either women or men.

They are right that those children should feel welcome in the district. But more than that, this public show of intolerance sends a dangerous message to other children that discrimination, especially bullying of gay children or those with same-sex parents, is justified.

After all, they would only be following the adults' example.