ROXBURY – I may have attended a Catholic high school and college, but I never asked what Jesus thought of library books.
My mistake apparently.
That question was actually raised at a nearly five-hour school board meeting Tuesday night over what books are housed in the high school library.
“We have not heard from Jesus,” said one man after dozens of speakers on both sides of the issue had already taken turns addressing the board and about 600 to 700 people jammed into the Eisenhower Middle School auditorium. The arguments were passionate, but after a bit, also repetitive. Some 11 books in the library were either an important resource for students or disgusting porn. It all depends on your personal beliefs.
The linchpin for all this was a suit by the high school librarian alleging that four parents unhappy with the 11 books have defamed her in public and in social media posts. This litigation – really more of a free speech issue than a book censorship one – will meander its way through the courts
The more encompassing issue here in western Morris County and across the country are the “culture wars, which typically pit Dems vs. Republicans, or if you prefer, liberals vs. conservatives. But as was evident this night, this issue also pits conservative Christians against those with secular views. And that gulf is pretty wide.
After the speaker inquired about Jesus’ position, something quite unusual occurred. The next speaker asked supporters in the crowd to pray with him and about 50 or so people did, raising their hands as is customary in Evangelical churches. When the prayer to Jesus ended – speakers were limited to three minutes – supporters rejoiced.
Leo Coakley, the board president, said board members could not – and would not – participate in any prayer, but that the public could do what it wanted.
It is also worth noting that any attempt to stop the prayer probably would have caused a ruckus.
At its basic level, this is a dispute – as book critics themselves like to say – over merely 11 books – not gay rights or any broader issue.
Still, this religious extremism makes the debate, as some said, about secularism and the whole concept of public school education. As the evening wore on, some spoke about a public school agenda to brainwash kids to hate America, a popular belief in right wing circles.
By the time we got to midnight, there were no more than 100 people in the room. The board debated immediately taking some of the books under fire from plain view in the library. In other words, kids would have to ask for them. That motion failed and as of now, it’s status quo.
Here’s some more about Coakley, a retired engineer and Air Force vet who comes across like a kindly grandfather. He did a splendid job chairing the meeting and maintaining decorum.
Near the end of the meeting, Coakley said he began reading one of the books in question and quickly became bored, which he attributed to his age.
As for the language, he said he overhears young people using those words every time he visits a mall.
Too bad others don’t have his wisdom.