Thursday, September 17, 2009

Annie on my Mind (2)

I was planning on doing a book review of Nancy Garden's Annie on my Mind, which is on the Maziarka List. But then I realized that censorship of this particular book had already been litigated. It made for interesting reading.

Annie on my Mind is a story about two 17-year-old women from different backgrounds, who meet by chance and fall in love. The well-kept secret of their romance is eventually exposed, leading to painful social consequences for the young couple, and for an older lesbian couple who wind up caught in the crossfire. The book was first published in 1982 and hasn't gone out of print since. The book became famous (or infamous) in the 1990s, as conservative opposition to its gay-affirming theme grew, leading to a public book-burning in Kansas City (sound familiar?). The American Library Association ranks it as number 44 on its list of 100 most frequently challenged books: 1990–1999. A summary of the book and the surrounding controversy can be found on Wikipedia.

In 1994, in part to avoid being drawn in to the public controversy in that state, the school board of the Olathe school district (A.K.A. Unified School District No. 233), in Johnson County, Kansas, removed the book from the school library. A group of students and parents, with the help of the ACLU, sued the school district to force the return of the book. The school board did not give in easily, and vigorously defended their presumed right to exclude the book, running up legal bills on both sides. The parents and students prevailed, and the school board was forced to return the book to the library shelves and pay the plaintiff's legal bills as well as their own.

The suit was decided in 1995, in the US District Court in Kansas, and is known in those records as Case v. Unified School District No. 233, ("Case" being the surname of the primary plaintiffs). In their adjudication, the district court relied heavily on the Supreme Court decision known as Board of Education v. Pico (see my post on that case), a case that had clarified limits on the power of a school board to remove books from the school library. One of the findings of the district court is highly relevant to West Bend book challenge, since Maziarka's allegation is that the book is pornographic or sexually explicit. The court, however, found that:
The book contains no vulgarity, offensive language, or explicit sexual content.
The court did not accept the school board's claim that the book was "educationally unsuitable." The board's own words and actions weighed heavily against them, in part because they had not followed their own established procedures for reconsidering library materials, and overrode the advice of the professional staff of their own library (sound familiar?). This was a striking parallel with the Board v. Pico case, and was taken as evidence that the board's motivations in removing the book were not as they claimed.
Accordingly, the court concludes that defendants removed Annie on My Mind because they disagreed with ideas expressed in the book and that this factor was the substantial motivation in their removal decision. Through their removal of the book, defendants intended to deny students in the Olathe School District access to those ideas. Defendants unconstitutionally sought to “prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.” [the quote inside the quote is from Board v. Pico]
The court's closing remarks were strident:
the court concludes that defendants' removal of Annie on My Mind from the Olathe School District libraries violated plaintiffs' constitutional rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and under the Constitution of the State of Kansas, Bill of Rights, § 11. . . . The court orders defendants to return the copies of Annie on My Mind to the libraries in the Olathe School District where they were located prior to the removal. . . . The court further orders that the books be made available according to the usual terms and conditions prescribed for the use of library materials in the District. . . . Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1988, plaintiffs are entitled to an award of attorneys fees, costs, and expenses associated with the prosecution of this case.
[The indented quotes all come from the court's decision. It can be difficult to locate copies of District Court documents, and the best source is probably Westlaw (online), if your library provides access. The full citation, for the legal-minded, is D.Kan.,1995., Case v. Unified School Dist. No. 233, 908 F.Supp. 864. ]