Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Swan Song

The fall semester is about to begin! I've got a syllabus to update, study guides to review, and soon there will be papers to grade, etc. I'll have a lot less time for my censorfreelib blog and I'll still keep an eye on the blogs, but just won't have the same kind of time for it that I had over the summer. I've got a couple more books reviews to post, then my output will drop off quite a bit.

At this point, I suspect I'm preaching to the choir, if to anybody at all. I've tried to call attention to the details I thought most important, and to make sure there was basic documentation of the debate, just in case the bullies were able to force the library to remove some entries from its website, however unlikely that might seem.

The process of learning about the Censorship debate in West Bend has been fascinating and at times disturbing. Before I switch attention to other things, I wanted to leave a summary of what I think I've learned. It's just one guy's opinion, from 39,000 feet.

It seems to me that those resisting censorship in West Bend have the stronger position by far. Of course, I would tend to think that, since that's the side I agree with. But I think my assessment is based in sound analysis. In particular, the law plainly favors the anti-censorship side. No judge is going to find the books in the West Bend library to be obscene or dangerous to minors. No judge will tolerate re-shelving, labeling, restricting access, or removing books to favor one or another political agenda. Nor would a judge force the library to acquire books on a topic so scientifically discredited as "reparative" therapy. And in the unlikely event that some low-level judge did side with the would-be censors, that decision would quickly be overturned on appeal .

On the other hand, the would-be censors of West Bend -- the WBC4SL, SafeLibraries, the CCLU, etc. -- don't have much to work with. Their comprehension of the legal framework of their own issues is somewhere between infantile and delusional. It is also clear that they lack the nuance and polish that makes more adept politicians capable of achieving real-world change. They are simply out of their depth.

At a lower level, however, the would-be censors of West Bend have real political power and real political ability. By innuendo, and by innuendo alone, they have convinced many citizens that the library actually has pornographic materials on the children's shelves. They have excited many to (self-)righteous indignation. Elected officials, many perceiving a need to pander to the religious right, fear the bloc of votes the would-be censors might represent, and the public controversy they've shown they can create. This is not high politics. It is the equivalent of stirring up a mob to grab their pitchforks and torches and go storm the castle gates. Nonetheless, it is a crude form of power that should be respected and even feared. Vigilance is called for.

Is this a "local" West Bend issue? It really is, although not in the way most people think. Homophobic bigotry, attempted censorship, and right-wing bullying are in no way unique to West Bend. Regardless of so-called "community standards," the Constitutional principles of Free Speech and Equal Protection are not subject to local override. Challenges to those principles are, by definition, national issues. But this particular battle is low politics. It is trench warfare, and the trench is in West Bend. While there are state and national resources available for support, it is the citizens of West Bend who will have to maintain the front-line vigil.


  1. Dear Non-Censor:

    I've been lurking here and enjoying your commentary and attempt to bring some intellectual weight to these debates.

    Sorry to see you go, but, of course, I can relate to the burdens that the fall semester brings.

    Michael Zimmer

  2. Thank you for your words of support. I encourage you, as well, to keep up the analysis on your website, which I've linked to under "news and analysis" on