Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. FCC

On July 13th a federal appeals court overturned the Federal Communication Commission’s  “Fleeting Expletive,” policy (see news coverage at the New York Times,  Fox News, and The First Amendment Center News)The policy, implemented in 2004, allowed the FCC to fine broadcasters for airing certain tabooed words and references, even if their use was rare and accidental.  The court found the policy to be unconstitutionally vague, and therefore an infringement on free speech.  The FCC has not yet announced whether it will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court or will rewrite the policy to pass constitutional scrutiny.

The court’s decision does not mean that television and radio broadcasters can suddenly air anything they want without restrictions. The decision was aimed at one particular regulation out of many, a regulation that was written too hastily, without careful consideration of its Free Speech implications. 

The decision has no direct bearing on library censorship, but reminds us of a legal principle that applies to all forms of Censorship, whether they affect expression in audio, video, or print formats: the need to be specific. Long-established jurisprudence says that restrictions on Free Speech must not only support legitimate governmental objectives, but must also be constructed as narrowly as possible to meet only those legitimate objectives.

This, of course, is a problem for wanna-be book-banners, who seem to have a severe disability when it comes to getting specific. Last summer, when the West Bend, WI, debacle was in progress, I pleaded repeatedly for the censors to come up with a set of standards they thought should be used to determine which books would be restricted and which wouldn’t. They steadfastly refused.  I reviewed many of their targeted books here on this blog, and could find no pattern, no rhyme or reason, to what was and wasn’t on their hit list. This was quickly repeated in Lake County, FL, with the hodgepodge of books challenged there, again without ever offering a set of censorship criteria. It’s going on right now in Fond du Lac, WI, where a censor has gone so far as to circulate a petition demanding that book acquisitions be reviewed by a committee, but has given no thought at all to how members would be selected for the committee, what their qualifications would be, nor the least inkling of what criteria the committee would use to make their decisions.

What these censors are asking for is the right to implement their personal, idiosyncratic prejudices as public policy. They are demanding a right to be capricious.

Even smaller-scale challenges, focused on as little as one title, can be surprisingly vague.  At first glance it might appear otherwise, because the challenger will say something like, “this book shouldn’t be used in the classroom because it contains the F-word,” or “this book shouldn’t be in a public library because it encourages homosexuality,” etc. These may sound specific, and perhaps in comparison to the larger-scale book challenges, they are.  But they still lack that critical detail: thinking in terms of process and procedure. If one book should be removed or restricted for containing a certain word or theme, should all such books be censored?  Can a book be censored because such a word or idea appears once, or does it have to have more than one?  How many times?  How will you measure?  If we apply the rule you’re developing, will it really censor all the books you want to censor, but leave uncensored all the books you think should be unrestricted?   What kind of library collection or classroom curriculum will your rules leave us with?

All of that, of course, is without even beginning to consider whether or not the proposed restrictions are even remotely legal. They rarely are. 

Click Here to see a PDF of the unanimous decision, known as Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. FCC, by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (New York).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tightening Delaware’s CIPA?

I wasn’t going to comment on Delaware’s recent attempt to “tighten” its own CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act), because I thought this was an unimportant story of minor changes to an already minor law. But since Safelibraries and some other sources are commenting on it, and are getting some key details wrong, I thought I might attempt a clarification.

The School Library Journal recently reported that the Governor of the state of Delaware has signed into law HB 340, which the journal describes as a “revision of CIPA” that “extends the law’s reach to wireless access in the public library.” The Journal quotes the governor as saying that the new law will “make it clear for the first time that even if it's on a personal laptop, public library network policies on acceptable use still apply.”

The Governor’s accurate summary of the law has been misinterpreted by some, who think it means that “WiFi will be filtered as well as the usual means of Internet access.” This is not the case. 

I can only guess about the source of the confusion, but I think it comes from a failure to read carefully. There is, of course, a big difference between a “use policy,” a set of rules that tells people what they can and cannot do, and an “internet filter,” a set of software and hardware that actively prevents computer users from accessing web pages that are estimated to contain pornographic images. What Delaware HB 340 says is that the “use of any computer or mobile device at a library shall be governed by the library's acceptable use policy.”  This makes patron-owned computers subject to the library’s internet use policy; it does not make patron-owned computers subject to the library’s internet filter, if a given library even has one.

Some might also be confusing the requirements of two different CIPA laws, the federal and the state. HB 340 is a modification to Delaware state’s CIPA, which never required internet filters, only a usage policy.  It is the federal CIPA, an entirely separate matter, which requires libraries that get certain federal funds to implement filters. HB 340 changes only the state’s CIPA; it does nothing at all to the federal CIPA (nor could it).

So what problem does wimpy HB 340 address? The existing Delaware CIPA required libraries to have use policies for computers the library owned. The law didn’t empower library staff to take enforcement action against patrons who violated that internet use policy when the patrons were using their own computers at the library. HB 340 changes that, allowing library staff to deny library privileges to any patron who violates the internet use policy while at the library, regardless of who owns the computer the patron used.

Both the Delaware State CIPA (Title 29, Chapter 66C) and HB 340 are short and clear.  I recommend reading them.  As of 23 June, Title 29 has not yet been updated to reflect the changes established in HB 340, which are scheduled to go into effect in about 90 days.  

Monday, June 21, 2010

Censorship and Delusional Thought

Maybe I should call this one “Revolutionary Voices Part 4.” I wonder how many parts there will be!

My May 23rd post on a challenge to a book called Revolutionary Voices recently generated a revealing exchange of comments with an “anonymous” correspondent. The correspondent supports the decision of the Rancocas Valley (NJ) school board to ban the book. At least in part, the correspondent takes this position because, he claims, the artwork in page 103 of the book shows “two adult men engaging in anal sex,” which is how the image is captioned in a blog post he cites, but not in the book itself (a clearer mage of the artwork can be seen HERE).

As with any art, much of the interpretation and meaning is in the mind of the viewer, and this image is, perhaps deliberately, fuzzy and ambiguous. Nonetheless, my correspondent’s interpretation is not merely wrong but delusional.

I wouldn’t ordinarily say “I’m right and you’re wrong,” about an interpretation of art.  I wouldn’t ordinarily call someone who disagreed with me “crazy,” and to be clear, I’m not calling this correspondent crazy merely because he disagrees me. I’m calling him crazy because his comments give evidence of cognitive dysfunction.

Exactly how is the correspondent delusional?

First, he asserts that he can interpret, with a clarity and certainty that other people lack, exactly what is going on in a grainy, indistinct drawing that simply does not contain sufficient detail to make the claim that he makes.

Second, he ignores the simple reality of what detail the image does contain, since a careful observer can plainly see that the participants are clothed.

Third, he claims to know better than the book’s editor what the image depicts. The editor, Amy Sonnie, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that “the drawing was actually a stock image of one man hiking a football to another.”

Fourth, he claims that my position in opposition to banning this book amounts to “anything goes in high school libraries.” To draw such a conclusion from my defense of this book is no more and no less than irrational, since the contents of this book are far, far from “anything goes.” In fact, I wouldn’t argue at all about removing from a school library any book that could be shown to meet the legal definition of obscenity, but Revolutionary Voices comes nowhere close to that.

While not all book challenges are so cut and dried, this example is not at all unusual. The plain facts are that Revolutionary Voices is a serious work of literature of great value to queer and questioning youth, but some adults don’t approve. Their disapproval is based in their social and political agendas, perhaps even a religious agenda, but they know they won’t be able to ban the book if they’re honest about that. So they have to exaggerate obscenity claims and hope nobody bothers to check their claims by actually opening the book.  None of that is crazy; it’s just devious, dishonest and treacherous.

But when one refuses to take personal responsibility for the meaning one gives to art, when one claims an ability to see what others cannot see, when one contradicts the plainly observable facts, that’s just plain nuts.

The good news is that the Revolutionary Readings project I mentioned in my May 26th post is proceeding as planned, and has even expanded its scope. In an effort to demonstrate the serious value of Revolutionary Voices, the contents of the book will be performed in Montclair, NJ, on June 27th, Metuchen on July 8th, East Rutherford on the 28th, and back at Montclair on August 19th.  They’ve even got a performance in New York City on July 12th.  See for details.

Following the lead of this enterprising and creative group, I’m going to ask that readings from Revolutionary Voices be included in the Banned Books Week observances we’ll be having in my area from 25 Sep through 02 Oct, 2010.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Nickel and Dimed?

An unusually honest book challenge is still under consideration in Easton, Pennsylvania, according to Lehigh Valley I say unusually honest because many book challengers never admit that their objections are political or religious in nature, especially when they really are. Too often, challengers exaggerate -- or outright fabricate -- claims that a book contains sexually explicit materials or foul language, specifically to avoid revealing their true objections.  Not so in Easton.

The book in question is Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America. This is a journalistic investigation into what it’s like for Americans earning the minimum wage to try to make ends meet.  Ehrenreich tried living this way herself, and wrote up her experiences from an eye-witness perspective. The results are less than kind to corporate America and even to some individuals with a higher standard of living.  At the Easton Area School District, the book was “part of the school's 11th-grade Advanced Placement English curriculum.”  As one administrator put it, “We read books like this to spark debate, get kids thinking about what they actually believe in, and stand up and defend it.”

Since the book is non-fiction and contains no sexually explicit material, the challenger had no choice but to be honest.  He accused the district of engaging in “political activism” by using the book, which he claims promotes economic fallacies, socialist ideas, and illegal drug use.  He also claims it belittles Christians.  The challenger has no children in the school district, but feels he has standing to make his claim as a tax-payer and as a graduate of the school district.

This kind of challenge is a waste of time for the school district and for the challenger, since even if the challenger’s claims are true, they do not constitute a legally defensible basis for removing a book.  In fact, removing books in an attempt to enforce political orthodoxy has been specifically tested and rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court (Board v. Pico, 1982). Nevertheless, waste time is just what the school district did, creating an 11-member committee to review the book. No harm done. The committee met in December and found the book pedagogically sound, voting to retain it.

The school board has yet to discuss the challenge. It could override the review committee’s recommendations, as School Boards have sometimes done in other book challenges. Let’s hope the board of the Easton Area School District are abler than those others.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Bluest Eye, Again.

2 The reports yet another challenge to The Bluest Eye, a magnificent novel by author Toni Morrison, winner of a Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize for Literature. The news article says that a parent has challenged the inclusion of the book on an Advanced Placement reading list for high school (!) English students. A bone-headed parent claims to be challenging the book because of a graphic depiction of rape.

The challenge is being made at Lafayette High School, part of the Lafayette Parish School System (that’s a public school system, a Louisiana parish being the equivalent of a county in other states). School policy allows students to substitute an alternative reading if they object to a particular assignment, and The Bluest Eye is optional reading, not required. Of course, students at this school are in ninth through twelfth grades, and are old enough to have some idea of what life is really like out in the real world. That’s not enough to satisfy the parent, who is “asking that the book no longer be a recommended reading selection.” Existing school policy is more than enough to allow this parent to control his own child’s reading, but he’s insisting on also being able to control what other people’s children can read.

The article reports that “the teacher voluntarily removed the book as an option from the Advanced Placement reading list,” an unfortunate capitulation to the values of the dull-witted. It is also procedurally dubious, since the book has not yet been reviewed by a committee. A better procedure would have been to leave the book on the reading list until the review process was complete.

Speaking of review by committee, the district has stated it will do just that.  While the school is to be praised for having a procedure in place and following it, this really is a waste of time and resources. This book is of such high literary and social value that the challenge can hardly be taken seriously. It has been challenged many times in many schools, and is retained more often than not.

I reviewed The Bluest Eye and described some other challenges against it in my blog post of 31 Oct 2009.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Revolutionary Voices, Part 3

An anonymous commentator has brought attention to a great idea about how to respond to a book ban.  Here’s an excellent example of a creative and educational response to a school board decision that is as opposite to creativity and education as you can get.

Readers may recall that the school board controlling the Rancocas Valley Regional High School (in New Jersey) recently banned an anthology for queer and questioning youth entitled Revolutionary Voices (see my posts of 5 May and 23 May).  “Banned” in this case means “removed from the school library.”
A local group has hit on a brilliant way to respond to this.  They are going to put on a “theatrical reading” of the banned book at a local cafĂ©.  The varied prose and poetry in the book readily lends itself to live performance, and it appears that the group has put some real thought into how to stage their production.  

Their stated hope is that:

"Upon witnessing our performances, upon reading this text, upon viewing these images, upon hearing these stories, you will recognize that Revolutionary Voices is not pornographic."

To see what they’re up to, visit:

And if you find yourself in the Montclair, NJ, area on June 27, attend the 8pm performance!

This seem like an excellent idea to me, since only a handful of people will every sit and read a banned book to verify the claims being made about it.  This performance will give the interested public a chance to learn about the contents of the book, to learn why the book is important for young readers, and to see that there is serious opposition to its censorship.   At many levels, this calls the bluff of the school board and the political activists who have challenged the book.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Revolutionary Voices, part 2

Earlier this month I noted that the Rancocas Valley Board of Education, in New Jersey, had made a dubious decision to ban (remove from library shelves) Revolutionary Voices, an anthology by and for queer and questioning youth.  What will happen next remains to be seen, but there might be more to the story.

The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union reports on its own website that it has made an Open Public Records request for documents relating to the board's decision.  That doesn't mean they ACLU will necessarily take action against the board, but it does indicate that they're considering what action to take.

Why seek these documents?  Probably because they ACLU is looking for evidence as to the motivations behind the board's decision. Court precedents, especially the 1982 Board v. Pico decision, make it clear that school boards need to have a valid pedagogical reason for removing a book that is already on a school library shelf, and cannot remove books in an attempt to enforce any kind of political orthodoxy. Were the ACLU to sue the school board over this act of censorship, the court would probably examine transcripts of board discussions, emails, memos, and the like, looking for information about what motivated the ban. The court would probably ask whether or not the district had an established procedure for handling challenges to library books, and whether or not that procedure was followed.  The court would want to know if the board followed or overrode the recommendations of a review committee, if there was one. The court would try to determine whether the board members actually knew the contents of the book, what details of the contents made the book educationally unfit, and how that analysis was arrived at. Of course, any comments indicating that the board made an uninformed decision, or made their decision in order to implement political or religious objectives, could weigh heavily against the ban.

In deciding what action, if any, to take, the ACLU would be likely to evaluate those same kinds of documents in order to estimate the strength of a possible lawsuit. It would be interesting to see what documents the school board produces in response to the Open Public Records request, and what they contain. I can only speculate, but with a copy of the banned book right here in my hand, I'd say the school board made a major legal blunder.  If they're smart, they'll reverse their decision before they have to divert large chunks of tax dollars to pay legal fees.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Doomed to Repeat History?

It appears that those who are ignorant of history are, indeed, doomed to repeat it.

The Post-Journal reported on May 12th that a parent has challenged Go Ask Alice, a Young Adult novel with a strong anti-drug message.  The book was going to be used in 7th- and 8th-grade health classes at the Thomas Jefferson middle school in Jamestown, New York.  Pending formal paperwork, a review committee will be formed to review the book and make recommendations. 

The school district had sent a letter to parents prior to the book’s use, noting that the book contained some profanity and sexual activity.  Some parents then read the book and found it offensive.  School district policy allows parents to opt their own children out of lesson materials they find offensive.  This was not sufficient for some parents, who have stated their intent to have the book removed from curricula throughout the school district. 

Both the school district and the parents in this incident seem to think they’ve discovered something new.  They’re quite mistaken about that.

First published in 1971, Go Ask Alice has been a frequent target of attempted censorship for decades. More recently, it occupies position 18 on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 most frequently challenged books 2000-2009.  It has sometimes been removed as the result of a challenge, but often retained, in part because many educators find that the book effectively communicates an anti-drug-use message to younger teens.  It was one of the books that the board of the Island Trees Union Free School District, also in New York state, removed from their school library in 1975.  That got them sued, with the result that the U.S. Supreme Court ordered this book returned to school library shelves in the famous Board of Education v. Pico decision (1982).

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Banning Ghosts and Ghoulies?

The Nashua Telegraph reports that a parent at the Pennichuck Middle School in Nashua, New Hampshire, has challenged the availability of Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story, a Young Adult novel written by Mary Downing Hahn.  Online reviews indicate that many adults fondly remember this as one of their favorite scary books when they were kids. The news article says:

"The parent, whose name was not released, is objecting to the book’s themes of talking to the dead, spiritualism and 'the belief that a part of the body survives after death and that you can communicate with it,' according to the School District."

This is a refreshingly honest challenge, since no exaggerated or invented claims are being made about profane language or sexual content. A challenge like this is unlikely to succeed, though, since a difference of religious beliefs is simply not a valid reason for removing or restricting books in any public context.  The newspaper says the district will form a seven-member review committee to consider the challenge.  While it is laudable that the district has a challenge procedure and is following it, this all seems rather a waste of time, given the nature of the challenge.  It is a foregone conclusion that the book will be retained, since there is no legally supportable basis for doing otherwise.

The Nashua Telegraph did a good job in reporting on the challenge. They had the presence of mind to contact the American Library Association to find out about previous challenges.  The ALA spokesperson found that the book has been challenged, but not frequently, the last previously known challenge having taken place 14 years ago.  That, of course, is based on the challenges that are reported to the ALA, and that there might have been other, undocumented challenges.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Think Globally and Act Locally

I’ve begun preliminary organizing in my area for the 2010 observance of Banned Books Week, which runs from Saturday, 25 September through Saturday, 02 October.  This may seem a bit early, but for those of us operating in an academic environment, preliminary plans have to be made before the summer break in order to have a successful event in September.

Observance of Banned Books Week is important because: 1) hundreds of attempts to remove, hide, or restrict access to books are made every year in these United States, 2) most people are unaware of this problem, and 3) the best defense against censorship is an informed public.

Organizing any event can be time-consuming, but Banned Book Week events are relatively easy to put together. For one thing, I found that there already were a number of observances taking place in my area each year, but most of these were small in scope and little noticed. Just making sure one group knows what another group is doing can increase visibility and participation.

I’m passing all this on in hopes that others will take the initiative to organize similar events in their areas. I’m finding a lot of local support for ideas like:
  • A display of banned and challenged books at a local bookstore and/or library.
  • Web pages dedicated to banned and challenged books, put up by bookstores and libraries.
  • A display and other activities at the English departments of nearby colleges and universities.
  • A speech or presentation by an author whose books have been challenged.
  • A presentation or panel on Free Speech law by local law students.
  • A speech or presentation by a representative of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Civil Liberties Union, American Library Association, or the National Coalition Against Censorship.
I’m also starting up a Banned Books reading club that will operate year-round.  We’ll meet once a month at a local bookstore, which was very happy to help start up the group.  At each meeting we’ll discuss a pre-selected title that has been banned or challenged, including a little of the censorship history of the selected book, which in many cases is easy to look up.  Between the ALA’s lists of frequently challenged books and new challenges going on constantly, there are more than enough titles to keep this reading club running for years.

I've put together some ideas and suggestions on my website, and have links there to resources available from organizations like the ALA, ABFFE, etc.  That info can be found at:

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Bizarre Decision

A recent internet censorship case took an odd turn in Washington State on May 6th. The state Supreme Court decision is actually part of a suit that is being decided by a U.S. District court (a federal court), so the May 6th decision has not yet settled the matter.  An AP article explains that the next step is back to the federal court. 

The case, known as Bradburn v. North Central Regional Library District, is actually about a very narrow issue:  whether or not a public library has to unblock access to a legitimate website blocked by an internet filter upon demand by an adult. It’s not at all about obscenity or minors.  What the federal court asked the state Supreme Court to evaluate was whether or not such unblocking was required by the Free Speech provisions of the Washington state constitution.  The federal court will take the state court’s findings into consideration in a separate decision that will also consider the implications of federal law.

In a split decision, the majority of the justices on the state Supreme Court decided that the state constitution allowed the library to ignore an adult’s demand for unblocking.  Five justices wrote the prevailing opinion, with one justice agreeing with them, but writing a separate opinion. Three of the Supreme Court justices disagreed, writing a dissenting opinion.

It’s no surprise that I disagree with the majority’s decision.  But it’s not just a question of disagreement.  The court’s decision is nothing less than bizarre, bordering on the incomprehensible. And its incomprehensibility is not a question of legalese.  It’s a question of basic logic. The decision makes little sense.

To make their decision work, the majority treated internet filtering like “selection,” the process by which a library selects and acquires books and other materials.  A library does not (in fact, cannot) house every constitutionally-protected book, and so, the court reasoned, a library does not have to provide access to every constitutionally-protected web page.  Somehow, according to the court, this means that a library doesn't have to unblock a blocked web page just because an adult asks for it, even if the blocked page is clearly within the bounds of protected speech.

There are many quantum leaps of illogic in the court’s line of reasoning, and I’ll bore everybody to tears if I try to pick every detail apart. The main point is that the analogy between selection and internet filters is irrational.  Following the court’s logic, a library could subscribe to the New York Times, but could cut pages out of selected issues for any reason, or for no reason at all.  By the court’s logic, the library could buy ten books and decide keep two of them under lock and key.

I am not alone in holding this opinion. Three justices on the Washington state Supreme Court also took the majority to task.  Short and to the point, the dissenting opinion’s opening sentence speaks volumes:
“The question before this court is whether, consistent with our state constitution's free speech protections, a public library can actively restrict adult access to web sites containing constitutionally protected speech.  The question is easy to answer: of course it cannot.”
The dissenting opinion also says:
“There is simply no reason . . . to install a system to protect children that cannot be disabled when used by adults.”
“But censoring material on the Internet is not the same thing as declining to purchase a particular book. It is more like refusing to circulate a book that is in the collection based on its content. That would raise serious constitutional concerns.”
“Simply put, the State has no interest in protecting adults from constitutionally protected materials on the Internet.  These policies do exactly that.  The filter should be removed on the request of an adult patron.”
The problem with the court’s reasoning is not (at least not entirely) with its analysis of the law. That is, after all, their area of expertise. But in this decision, as in some others, the judges have demonstrated a lack of comprehension of what the internet is or what filters do.  The split in the decision on this case probably reflects different levels of technical understanding.  Some things the majority seems not to have grasped are:
  • The internet itself is a public forum. It is, in many ways, the ultimate public forum. As such, infringements upon internet Free Speech should always be subject to “strict scrutiny,” the most rigorous protection of Free Speech that courts can provide. 
  • When a library connects to the internet, it automatically has access to countless web pages.  Few libraries, if any, engage in any kind of selection process regarding internet sites.  In the absence of planned action, the library and its patrons have access to the entire internet, not just portions of it. 
  • Internet filters do not equate to selecting books to put on a library shelf.  Internet filters actively prevent access to materials that library patrons would otherwise have access to. Internet filters are much more like removing books from the shelves than they are like any kind of selection process. 
How this case will turn out remains to be seen.  The Washington State Supreme Court’s decision is only one of the pieces of information that the U.S. District Court will consider.  Of course, however that District Court decision turns it, it might also be appealed.  I suspect that in the long run decisions like this one one will be overturned, not because of any change in law or ideology, but because judges and justices will  become more internet savvy over time.  Sadly, this process could take another decade or two.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Asking About Life, Part 4

On May 5th, in Tennessee, logic and reason won a small victory, however fleeting it may be. The Knox County school board in that fine state voted 6-3 to retain a challenged biology textbook titled Asking About Life.  News coverage of the vote was released within a few hours on,, and

The father of a high school student had challenged the use of the textbook in the school’s honors Biology program because on one page, out of over 900, the book defined Creationism as a “biblical myth.”  In response to his initial challenge, a review committee was set up. But when that committee recommended keeping the book, the father appealed to the school board.  The school board has now also voted to keep the book, and the father has indicated he may appeal further, although it is not clear to whom.

This follows the ever-so-typical pattern of book challenges in public schools: 1) a parent overreacts to excerpts without considering the work as a whole, 2) the parent challenges the book without reasonable justification, 3) a review committee is formed and recommends keeping the book, then 4) the school board ignores the recommendations of the experts and bans the book anyway.  By luck or logic, I don’t know which, step four turned out differently this time.
The cash-strapped school district could ill afford to replace the textbook at present.  The district was already planning to replace the textbook at some unknown future date, whenever regular funding next became available. It is not clear whether that would have entailed an upgrade to the next edition of the same textbook or a different title altogether. Nor is it clear how the present challenge will affect that decision, if and when the funding to replace the book does become available.

What the textbook actually says on the offending page (I have the book in front of me) is:
“In 1973, antievolutionists in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Louisiana passed identical bills calling for ‘equal time’ for teaching evolution and creationism, the biblical myth that the universe was created by the Judeo-Christian God in 7 days.  But a court ruled that the ‘equal-time’ bill was unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the separation of church and state” [emphasis original].
Some Christian creationists (or are they creationist Christians?) feel this statement unfairly belittles their religion, and that a science textbook shouldn't mention religion at all. But given their all-out assault on science, I don’t think creationists can legitimately claim to be the victims here.  The textbook’s statements are irreproachably fair and accurate.

Of course, the term myth has two slightly different meanings, and a lot of the debate within this book challenge was about which meaning was intended by the authors.  Myth can mean a story that is false. Myth can also mean a story with symbolic and metaphorical meanings that are more important than the story’s factual accuracy, regardless of whether the story is true or not. The latter is the more technically accurate sense of the term, and is the one the authors have said they intended.

The distinction is irrelevant, however, since the Genesis creation story is a myth in both senses.  The vast majority of Christians acknowledge that Genesis is a myth. They recognize that what’s important about it is its spiritual message about the relationship between the human and the divine, and know that it is not, and cannot be, a statement of historical fact. Only a small group of literal-minded fundamentalists claim that the first few chapters of Genesis can be taken as a statement of scientific fact. Genesis says that plants grew on earth before the sun, moon and stars had been created (1:11-17), which is a simple impossibility in several ways. Genesis explicitly states that birds and mammals were created before humankind (1:20-26), then immediately contradicts itself, saying that God created man first (2:7), and created birds and mammals after that (2:18-20). Genesis says that men and women (plural) were created together after all the other life forms (1:26-28), then immediately contradicts itself, saying that God created a man, then birds and mammals, then created a woman out of the man’s rib (2:18-22). Don’t get me started about talking snakes. Calling Genesis a myth is the best thing we can say about it.

I agree that no science textbook should attempt to practice theology, and Asking About Life comes nowhere close to doing that.  What the book does is correctly recount some of the recent history of the teaching of science, a topic that is clearly legitimate within a science textbook. It is completely ridiculous for creationists to cry foul here. Creationists started this fight by trying to turn our officially secular public school system into an instrument for the propagation of faith. They lost that battle, and now want to insist that nobody discuss that loss as the simple historical fact that it is. I realize some won’t like it, but creationists have made their own bed, and now they have to lie in it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Revolutionary Voices

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that on May 4th the Rancocas Valley Board of Education (in New Jersey) banned Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology. The board voted unanimously to pull the book from high school library shelves. In the same meeting, the board voted to retain two other challenged books, Love and Sex: 10 Stories of Truth and The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities. All three titles had been challenged by parents associated with conservative group 9.12.

According to the article, the board consulted attorneys who advised the board that they “had the legal authority to ban books because of obscenity but not on political grounds.” That is stating the obvious, and the board hardly needed to pay legal fees if that’s the only advice they got.  What the article does not make clear is whether or not the lawyers evaluated this particular book to determine whether or not it fell into a category that the board could legally ban.

Having reviewed the book myself, it appears to me that the board has clearly crossed the line into illegal censorship. One can only hope that an aggrieved parent in the school district has the presence of mind to contact the ACLU and sue the school board for infringing upon their First Amendment rights.

Revolutionary Voices was written by youth and for youth. It was designed to give voice to individuals and groups often overlooked in anthologies for queer and questioning youth, specifically “youth of color, young women, transgender and bisexual youth, (dis)abled youth, and poor/working class youth.“  Many of the writers included in the volume have gone on to make a name for themselves as authors. 

This is a serious work with serious literary and social value. As such, it cannot be classified as obscene. A critical legal detail that the school board seems to have overlooked is that the book must be evaluated as a whole, meaning that the decision to ban it cannot be based on isolated excerpts.  Interestingly, the Inquirer describes the opinion of one of the parents who read the book this way:
“She said that for the most part, the stories and material were sensible and in good taste, the sort of thing that might help teenagers struggling to figure out their sexuality. But certain sections of Revolutionary Voices, including a piece about a ‘gay porn star,’ Lange said, were distasteful and ‘without educational value.’”
The parent/reviewer is acknowledging here that the book, as a whole, has serious value. This is the kind of analysis that will come back to haunt the school board, should they be sued on account of their decision.

Shame on the Rancocas Valley Board of Education for kowtowing to a small group bent on controlling public discourse! Once again, a school board earns an “F” in education.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Dim Bulbs Grow Dimmer in Fond du Lac

In my April 13th post I mentioned the supposed end of a perfectly ridiculous challenge to Sonya Sones’ One of those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies. A mother in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, had challenged that book at a school library, and had dug in her heels about it. On that same date, an article in the Fond Du Lac Reporter noted that the challenge had gone through multiple levels, the challenger being unwilling to accept the decision of a review committee and then of the superintendent to keep the book. When the school board also voted to keep the book, the newspaper declared that the “parent's mission to remove a book from Fond du Lac middle schools has ended.” 

This may have been premature.

Those who want to censor books are of many types and have varying motivations, but the Fond Du Lac situation seems increasingly typical of the worst aspects of censors as a group. It starts with a parent who has a tiny sliver of a legitimate complaint: a book that he or she finds objectionable by personal standards. But any hint of reasonableness disappears the moment that parent refuses to accept personal responsibility for his or her personal values. A personal objection becomes a public debate when the parent demands that a public institution, ordinarily bound by the ethics and legalities of Free Speech, impose one person’s values on an entire community. The book is reviewed by others, discussed, and voted on, and (almost always) is retained, which should be a process that educates the challenger about Free Speech in a pluralistic society. But the censors don't get educated by that process. On the contrary, they just get more intransigent. 

And so we come to the May 3rd letter by the same book challenger to the Fond Du Lac Reporter, in which she repeats the empty platitudes we’ve seen in so many failed challenges elsewhere. “It was never about ‘banning books,’” she declares, even as she tries to ban books, apparently comprehending neither the meaning of the word “ban” nor the gravity of her demand. She writes, “I realize there are parents who disagree with me,” and adds “to them, I say your children can visit the public library for that type of book.” Here we see the very essence of the censors’ worldview, a belief that a whole community should have the job of avoiding offense to the peculiar sensitivities of one individual. Of course, both ethics and the law demand exactly the opposite, that especially sensitive individuals should take steps to shield themselves from unwelcome materials, without burdening the community at large. But a censor cannot be bothered with such facts.

Undeterred by three levels of failure, the letter-writer points to a petition she is now circulating.  Her petition is shockingly inane, revealing a lack of thought that is nearly absolute.  It reads, in its entirety:

Could she have been more hopelessly vague? How many people will be on her proposed committee? With what qualifications? Will they be elected or appointed?  By whom? Will they be paid for their services? To whom will they report? Are their findings to be final or will they only be suggestions? What guidelines will they follow to decide which books the school should acquire and which the school should not? Who will get to define those guidelines? Similar questions are instantly apparent for the rating system she fails to define. Who will rate the books? Into how many categories will books be rated? What specific characteristics will determine the rating category into which a book is placed? Who will decide on the number of categories and define the characteristics of each category? How will a book’s rating be communicated to a potential reader? Will it affect a potential reader’s borrowing privileges? If so, how?

An inability or unwillingness to think logically is part of most censorship attempts at every step, and the Fond Du Lac situation is certainly no exception. That refusal to think is present at the beginning of every challenge, when someone first makes an unrealistic assessment of the offensiveness or harmfulness of a piece of literature. It’s present every time book challengers refuse to recognize that they don’t have a right to dictate public policy or refuse to acknowledge what the law plainly says about Free Speech. It’s present when censors insist that review committees and rating systems are simple, uncomplicated things, and can't be bothered to get specific about what they really want. Censors just don’t think. 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Deal With It!

For over a decade Deal With It has been high on the hit list of censors across America.  Among their various claims, varying from the exaggerated to the dishonest to the deranged, are that the book contains “graphic” or “explicit” depictions of sex, or that it promotes teenage sex, abortion, and homosexuality.

As usual, on actually reviewing the book, I find myself wondering whether the censors ever opened the cover.  And if they actually did consider the contents of the book, I can’t help but wonder at the bizarre notions of human nature and human sexuality the censors must be living with.

Deal With It! A Whole New Approach to Your Body, Brain, and Life as a Gurl, written by Esther Drill, Heather McDonald, and Rebecca Odes, and first published in 1999, is a book of information about health, puberty, and sex for teenage and pre-teen girls. A limited preview can be seen on, and the most controversial parts of the text, taken completely out of context and anything but a fair representation of the book as a whole, can be found at  The book is a distillation of information accumulated over several years on, a website that continues to be active and useful.   

Frankly, the front cover is the most provocative part of the book. It shows a young woman with her back to the reader, holding her raincoat open (but faced away from the reader), in what many would take to be a “flasher” pose.  This is an overleaf attached to the front cover, and when this is opened the figure is reversed, revealing that the “flasher” is not nude, but is wearing either a bikini or bra and panties.

That is the totality of any luridness or salaciousness in the book. The rest is information, practical, useful and technically accurate, presented with fairness and balance. In fact, the text is dense by the standards of young readers, so much so that pre-teens and even some young teens are just not that likely to read it.

Illustrations are both minimal and minimalist. There are technical drawings of both male and female genitalia, rendered as monochrome line-drawings with the usual scientific names of the parts.  There are a total of three illustrations of sexual positions, which are made up of black-and-white stick figures, lacking any detail.

The informational content of the book is exactly focused on the issues of bodily and emotional changes that most teenage girls have concerns about. It’s about: breast development and brassieres, acne, body hair and how to deal with it, menstruation, sex, sexually transmitted diseases, birth control, what to expect in the gynecologist’s office, etc. There are also sections on mental health, drugs and drug use, self-esteem, healthy boundaries, emotions, relationships, and the like.

 Deal With It is empowering, because knowledge is power, but it doesn’t “promote” anything. The emphasis throughout the book is on balanced and factual completeness, not on any particular ideology.  That means that, for example, methods for controlling pregnancy and the transmission of disease are discussed, in terms of both their effectiveness and failures. The effects of recreational drugs are described, but so are their risks. Room is made for consideration of individual values and religious beliefs, without promoting or denigrating them.  A few quotes illustrate this balance:

“When it comes to protection from sexually transmitted diseases, the only truly safe sex is no sex at all (or sex with yourself only).  Any sex with another person introduces an element of risk” (p. 108).

“If you’re sexually active, there is a chance that you will get pregnant, no matter which birth control method you use.  The possibility is higher or lower depending on which method of birth control you use.  But know that no birth control method, except abstinence, is 100 percent effective” (p. 121).

“If you’re sure that you’re pregnant, you have to make a relatively quick decision about whether you will continue the pregnancy.  For some people, there is no decision to make.  Their religious, moral, or personal beliefs make it unthinkable to intentionally terminate a pregnancy” (p. 124).

Is there any valid legal principle that would allow this book to be banned or restricted anywhere? No. Not at all.  There is nothing in the least bit prurient about the book, and it clearly has serious value, both to minors and adults. By definition, then, the book is neither obscene nor “harmful to minors.” So far is the law is concerned, this book can be handed out to five-year-olds (not that they’d be able to read it).

Some parents won’t want their daughters to have the information in this book, in spite of its fairness, balance, and accuracy.  They are entitled to make that personal decision, although they’re deluding themselves if they think they’re protecting their daughters from the “promotion” or “encouragement” of anything, or a challenge to the values of one or another religion. Parents who would withhold this book are those who believe that their children, and society as a whole, are better served by knowing less, which is exactly why those particular parents should not be allowed to make this kind of decision for anybody else’s children.
Banning or restricting access to this book is just ignorance striving to beget ignorance.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Asking About Life, Part 3

To: Members of School Board of Knox County, Tennessee

Dear School Board Member:

I read with dismay of the recent attempt at censorship in your school district against Tobin and Dusheck's biology textbook Asking About Life. I urge the School Board to respect the Establishment and Free Speech clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by retaining the book in classroom curricula.

I have reviewed the contested section of the textbook, and find nothing that raises the slightest concern about its fairness, its scientific or historical accuracy, or its suitability for educational purposes. Tennessee State education standards require teaching evolution in Biology II and Advanced Placement Biology, and it is impossible to fulfill this mandate without offending the religious sensibilities of some constituents.

By removing Asking About Life from the curriculum, the board will be violating the constitutional rights of students, parents, and teachers in at least two ways. First, you will be subordinating sound scientific education to one particular religious perspective, an entanglement with religion that a public school, as an agency of government, cannot engage in. Secondly, you will be censoring a book on the basis of of the board's sense of religious or political orthodoxy, something a school board cannot do, regardless of the subject matter in question.

Before you make your decision, I urge the board to seek competent legal advice about the applicability of prior court decisions to the specifics of the situation at hand. Hopefully, the school district has its own attorney or has access to the county's attorney. I suggest giving careful consideration to the implications of the Kitzmiller v. Dover (400 F. Supp. 2d 707) and Edwards v. Aguillard (482 U.S. 578) decisions regarding creationism and the teaching of science in public schools. Consideration should also be given to Minarcini v. Strongsville (541 F.2d 577) and Board V. Pico (457 U.S. 853), to name but two precedents that establish limits on the power of school boards to censor books in an attempt to enforce ideological orthodoxy.

If the board makes the wrong choice by removing Asking About Life from curricula, it will only take one aggrieved parent to drag the district into a costly lawsuit that the district is almost certain to loose. Please give careful consideration to the budgetary implications of your decision.

Thank you for your consideration.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Part 2

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a magnificent book. Although this is a novel, author Sherman Alexie draws heavily on his real-life experiences, giving the book an autobiographical flavor. The story is written from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy, and is intended for a young adult audience. Nevertheless, adult readers will find the book both touching and eye-opening.

The story is told from the perspective of a teenage boy growing up on an Indian reservation in Washington state. Seeking educational opportunities outside the reservation, he starts attending an all white school 22 miles away. He suddenly finds himself to be a teen without an identity, the “other” no matter where he goes, the one brown face at school, perceived as a traitor by many back home on the reservation. The differences in expectations and economic opportunity on and off of the reservation are starkly explored, in terms of both race and class. The evils of alcoholism are made plain, as they cause the protagonist tragic losses. But with all the struggles and losses, the story ends on a positive note, as he finds greater self-acceptance, and acceptance by others in both of the worlds in which he lives.

A reviewer for the School Library Journal wrote, “this kind of subject matter requires a seemingly effortless mixture of laughter and tears. Sherman Alexie manages to deliver this.” I heartily concur, having found the book illuminating, entertaining, and heart-rending all at once.  This is also the kind of book educators love, since it can be mined for endless discussion topics. It is for these kinds of reasons that the book has won many awards, including a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, The New York Times Notable Children’s Books of 2007, The Los Angeles Times Favorite Children’s Books of 2007, and School Library Journal Best Books of 2007.  On April 12th, the Walla Walla County Rural Library District began giving away 200 copies of the novel to teenagers who visited library branches.

It is not at all clear to me why the Stockton, Missouri, school district banned this book. One news article stated it was due to “violence, language and some sexual content,” but that is hard to believe.  The book does contain a fair amount of rough language, reflecting the way teenage boys interact with each other. But compared to what is heard in real-life high school hallways, the author has shown restraint. Violence in the book is in no way glorified, is not portrayed in any detail, and there’s far less of it than one might see in an hour of prime-time television. Sexual content is limited to a few references to erections and masturbation, also not described in any detail.

I suspect that the book makes some parents and administrators uncomfortable because of the social, political, and religious commentary that is sometimes woven into the story. If I were to pick one passage most likely to rouse the ire of a censor, I’d bet on page 155. It has no violence, strong language, or sexual content at all.  But it does include the following:

“Now, in the old days, Indians used to be forgiving of any kind of eccentricity.  In fact, weird people were often celebrated.
“Epileptics were often shamans because people just assumed that God gave seizure-visions to the lucky ones.
“Gay people were seen as magical, too.
“I mean, like in many cultures, men were viewed as warriors and women were viewed as caregivers. But gay people, being both male and female, were seen as both warriors and caregivers.
“Gay people could do anything. They were like Swiss Army knives!
“My grandmother had no use for all the gay bashing and homophobia in the world, especially among other Indians.
“’Jeez,’ she said. ‘Who cares if a man wants to marry another man? All I want to know is who’s going to pick up all the dirty socks?’
“Of course, ever since white people showed up and brought along their Christianity and their fear of eccentricity, Indians have gradually lost all of their tolerance.
“Indians can be just as judgmental and hateful as any white person.
“But not my grandmother.
“She still hung onto that old-time Indian spirit, you know?”

An able educator could easily turn just this passage into an hour of classroom discussion, exploring the assumptions the protagonist is making about human nature, sexual orientation, and differences in cultural values.  The idiots running the schools in Stockton, Missouri, have chosen to deny their students this educational opportunity. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck was a major American writer, a winner of a Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel Prize for Literature, who gave us The Grapes of WrathEast of Eden, and Cannery Row, to name but a few of his notable works. Each of his novels captures the essence and atmosphere of a particular time and place, often exploring the hard lives of poorer Americans in difficult circumstances. His portraits of Americana have been bestsellers, have won numerous literary awards, and have been adapted to the cinema, television, and the stage. They are studied in high school and college literature courses throughout the U.S, and the English-speaking world. 

Not that any of that gives the censors even a moment's pause.

And so it goes with Of Mice and Men, a short yet deep work by a literary giant, available in paperback and library binding, Ebook format and audio, with optional Spark Notes and Cliff Notes. Educators find Of Mice and Men to be an excellent tool for teaching literature because it is clear yet profound, and because its lean simplicity makes it easy to show students how structure supports theme (see the discussion in H. N. Foerstel's Banned In the USA, pp. 197-199). Of course, it is banned, challenged, and censored. A lot. It held sixth position on the American Library Association's list of the top 100 challenged books for the decade 1990-1999, and moved up to fifth place for the decade 2000-2009.

I've just re-read Of Mice and Men, and found myself wondering what could possibly possess anyone to censor it. Most of us are familiar with the story, having seen one or another movie or TV version, even if we've never read it. Yes, it's depressing; it is a tragedy after all (note to censors: that's a genre of serious literature). It's a look into the character of men who are loners, fending for themselves without family or friends, a look into what happens when people who can't afford to dream dare to dream. The characters of the story are coarse, and they sometimes employ coarse language, though nowhere near as much as a portrayal of such characters might have included. Dated racial epithets are used, but form part of the realistic portrayal of a certain segment of American society in the 1930s. The violence in the story, far from extreme, is the result of circumstances, lack of opportunity, and personal responsibility. It is never glorified or exalted. References to sex are quite indirect.

D. B. Sova, in her volume on Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds, documents more than 35 challenges from 1974 through 2003, mostly revolving around the use of the book in English classes in grades 7 and higher. Typical complaints refer to profane language, racial slurs, and taking the Lord's name in vain. One can only assume that the occasional complaints of "lurid passages about sex" were made by individuals who simply had not read the book. In 1992, in Hamilton, Ohio, a group of parents actually counted 108 profanities and 12 racial slurs (different reviewers come of with different counts, since they don't agree with each other about which terms are or are not profane). A minister addressing the school board said the book should be burned. In 1994 a school superintendent in Putnam County, Tennessee, removed the book from classrooms. The school board in George County, Mississippi, voted to ban the book in 2002, and in 2003 the book was removed from all classrooms and school libraries in Lucedale, Mississippi.

The challenges continue unabated. A 2008 article in USA Today adds instances in Greencastle-Antrim (PA) schools in 2006, Newton (IA) schools in 2007, and Olathe (KS) schools in 2007. The Olathe school district voted to retain Of Mice and Men, ostensibly on the book's own merits. It is possible, though, that the Olathe board knew a bit more about Free Speech law than many school boards, their 1995 predecessors having had their wrists slapped by a US District Court after they removed copies of Annie on my Mind from the school library (Case v. Unified School District, 908 F.Supp. 864).

Objections to Of Mice and Men rarely come from teachers or librarians, people who actually know something about literature, the role of literature in education, and protections of Free Speech. One might make allowances for the occasional parent, not so enlightened, to raise an objection to this or any work. But Of Mice and Men is nowhere near as offensive as its frequent banning and attempted banning would suggest. We can conclude that this is one of those books that has got on some list of "inappropriate" books somewhere, and is then recycled from one non-reader to another non-reader, the blind leading to blind. A school board is supposed to know better than that. They're supposed to appreciate that great books have an important role in education, and they're supposed to know at least a little bit about Free Speech in schools. It is unethical and incompetent for a school board to kowtow to each and every illiterate cretin's request to reduce our children's education to milquetoasty pablum.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Minarcini v. Strongsville

Kurt Vonnegut’s apocalyptic novel Cat’s Cradle is not one of the most frequently challenged of challenged books, but it is an interesting example, both because of the motivations behind the attempted censorship of it, and because of the court decision that censorship led to.

First published in 1963, Cat’s Cradle is one of Vonnegut’s many satirical observations of the human condition. Using fiction as a metaphor for current events, it deals with the relationship between technology and society, religion and society, economic development, and the arms race. Ice-nine, a mysterious substance invented by scientists without thought to its consequences, is a transparent metaphor for nuclear weaponry.

The usual objections are unsupportable in this case. Some strong language appears, but is quite limited. The gerundive of the “F” word is rendered as “fugging,” which isn't much of a disguise, but must have made some censors happy. There are a few minor and very indirect references to sexual activity, but nothing approaching a description of any such act. Even though, operatically, everybody winds up dead in the end, there is no violence at all.

Objections to the book have more to do with its political and religious perspective. Its primary political stance is one against war, with some focus on the darker side of capitalism, although it is far from anti-American.  Oddly, Cat’s cradle is listed in N. J. Karolides’ volume Literature Suppressed on Political Grounds, rather than the companion volume, Literature Suppressed on Religious Grounds, by M. Bald. Vonnegut's well-known secularism is readily apparent in the text. Although carefully crafted as cynicism about the invented and fictional religion of Bokononism, it is clear that all religions are being portrayed as so much hokum.

In 1972, the School District of the City of Strongsville, Ohio, decided to remove Cat’s Cradle from classroom curricula and the school library, also taking action against Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Unsurprisingly, some students and their parents, with the assistance of the ACLU, sued the district in a case known as Minarcini v. Strongsville City School District (541 F.2d 577, U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, 1976).  The school district won a first round, but lost on appeal.

Minarcini v. Strongsville anticipates later decisions such as Right to Read Defense Committee v. School Committee of the City of Chelsea (1978, 454 F. Supp. 703), Board of Education v. Pico (1982, 457 U.S. 853), Case v. Unified School District (1995, 908 F.Supp. 864), and Counts v. Cedarville School District (2003, 295 F.Supp.2d 996). In Minarcini the court acknowledged the broad power of school boards to regulate the informational content of schools, and cautioned that courts should not interfere with that power unless a board’s actions “directly and sharply implicate basic constitutional values.” Such a direct and sharp implication is exactly what the court found the board had committed, given the uncontested literary value of the challenged book, and the absence of any claim of obscenity (one of the few legitimate grounds for removing a book from a school library).

Even today, censorship proponents like to claim that removing a book from a library or classroom isn’t really censorship, since the removed book will remain available elsewhere. This ridiculous and self-serving redefinition of the term censorship has been done away with in a number of court cases, including this one. In Minarcini, the court accused the school board of attempting “to censor the school library," and wrote:

“Further, we do not think this burden is minimized by the availability of the disputed book in sources outside the school. Restraint on expression may not generally be justified by the fact that there may be other times, places, or circumstances available for such expression.”

The court’s final decision was:

“. . . to declare the School Board resolutions of August 19, 1972 and August 31, 1972, null and void as violative of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and to direct the members of the Strongsville School Board to replace in the library the books with which these resolutions dealt . . .”