In the Bonfire of the Book Banning Debate

GLEN RIDGE – In the “culture wars” of today’s America, many see banning books as particularly obnoxious.

That’s why at least 600 people jammed a school auditorium Wednesday night to demand that the town library board of trustees not remove six books about sexuality and gender from its shelves.

They left happy. The books will remain.

The board made the decision unanimously after about 90 minutes of public comment.

In truth, there was no suspense; it was clear from the outset where the board was headed.

So, the meeting quickly transformed into a rally in support of free speech, gay rights and the ability for people to read what they want. Many in the crowd wore orange T-shirts expressing opposition to book bans. Some came with rainbow scarves or hats to show support for gay rights.

“We oppose any attempt to marginalize minority voices,” said Jeff Mansfield, the pastor of the Glen Ridge Congregational Church. He displayed a letter urging the books to remain that he said was signed by many members of the local clergy.

Other speakers said a library’s purpose is to serve all people and that books are often comforting.

“No books should be banned, some of them save lives,” said one man.

The saga over books in this small enclave (pop. 7,800) that is surrounded by Bloomfield and Montclair began last fall when a group called Citizens Defending Education asked the board to remove or relocate six books as unsuitable for minors. The library director said the group is actually eight residents representing six households. The board refused the request and the petitioners appealed the decision, putting the matter on the Wednesday night meeting agenda.

The books in question are:

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson.

Here and Queer by Rowan Ellis

This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson.

It’s Not the Stork by Robie H. Harris

It’s Perfectly Normal also by Robie H. Harris

You Know, Sex by Cory Sllverberg

In discussing the books, board members said all were of literary and educational value and that some were written not for children, but parents.

Board Member David Leftkovitz dismissed as “nonsense” the charge that some of the books were pornographic.

None of the individuals seeking the books’ removal addressed the board, allowing book supporters to make their point without opposition.

 

Democratic Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (above) was in attendance and drew cheers when she announced plans to introduce legislation to ban libraries from banning books – a sort of “ban the ban” idea.

“Book banning is incredibly archaic,” she said.

As this debate rages nationwide, some conservatives contend that books can be inappropriate because they can “groom” children. In its rawest form, the premise suggests that reading books can encourage youngsters to explore alternate lifestyles.

Some speakers challenged that idea using humor to do so.

One young man said he was bisexual and that reading books “never made me straight.”

Another woman drew laughs from the more senior members of the crowd when she said she read The Godfather years ago and is yet to put a horse’s head in someone’s bed.

The only dissenting, albeit mild, comment came from a man who said he thought those who wanted the books removed were being bullied. He spoke of the overflow crowd and the spirited applause that followed most of the speakers.

The show of support for the books may have seemed extreme to some, but one must consider what a leading conservative observed about 60 years ago:

“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

Those yearning to learn more about Barry Goldwater and the context of his famous line can do so by visiting a library.

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