Republicans used to talk about low taxes and too much regulation. That’s still a big part of the GOP’s campaign arsenal, but balanced budgets are – if you excuse the pun – not very sexy.
But books can be and as Republican primary battles ensue in “red” northwest Jersey, books are on the table, or perhaps chopping block.
And that explains why a number of Republican candidates are jumping into a legal battle involving the Roxbury High School librarian and four residents. The librarian sued the residents for defamation in March, claiming that, among other things, they have labeled her a “child predator” because of some of the books in the library.
This is very much a free speech case. The core of the issue seems to be whether the librarian was defamed or whether the critics were simply expressing themselves on a legitimate public issue.
The books in the legal sense are very much irrelevant. After all, defaming someone is wrong no matter the reason. Or put another way, even if one is convinced the relevant books are inappropriate, one does not have the right to suggest the librarian is a child predator – a criminal accusation.
Not surprisingly, none of these legal principles made it to the most recent school board meeting.
Roxbury is in the newly-drawn 24th legislative district and one of the speakers at the meeting was Joshua Aikens, who is seeking a district Assembly nomination in the June 6 Republican primary.
He decried the books in question as having the potential to “alter (the) minds” of children
One book attracting the most attention – both in Roxbury and elsewhere – is Gender Queer: A Memoir. This is a graphic novel that traces the author’s (Maia Kobabe) journey from adolescence to adulthood and Kobabe’s exploration of gender identity and sexuality.
The book may not be for everyone, but it’s not for everyone. This is a library book, meaning that only those who want to read it will read it.
In today’s climate, however, especially on the conservative side of the aisle, so-called objectionable material should be removed.
Some at the meeting applauded calls to remove books, proving two things. Censorship has its supporters and the Republican candidates who are embracing this issue know their audience. At least on this night.
As noted, Roxbury is in LD-24, but there also is a nasty primary ensuing just to the east in LD-26.
On the Senate side of the equation, incumbent Joe Pennacchio is being challenged by Tom Mastrangelo, a Morris County commissioner.
Pennacchio, who once had a dental practice in Roxbury, sent out a release last week expressing support for those being sued.
“These moms should have the right to raise concerns about their children being exposed to sexually explicit and highly offensive materials in their schools,” is part of what he said.’
Mastrangelo spoke at the meeting urging the offensive books to be removed.
For Republicans fighting the culture wars, or as they would say, “woke culture,” this is good politics. Then again, if all candidates agree, it may not mean much to primary voters.
There are a few things that need to be raised as we go forward.
Will the aforementioned candidates continue pressing this issue at subsequent board meetings?
Will there be any pushback?
I am reminded of what happened a few months ago in Glen Ridge when throngs of people organized and beat back an effort to remove books from the town library. Yes, the town library is different from a school library but support for people to read what they want is the same.
And, of course, how will the litigation turn out?
Most recently, a filing by the plaintiff’s attorney asks the court to find three of the defendants in “default” for not yet answering the suit. The fourth defendant has filed an answer.