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American Library Association Receives $1M Grant To Fight Book Challenges In Court
Lawfare: the use of legal systems and institutions to damage or delegitimize an opponent, or to deter an individual's usage of their legal rights.
While challenging books for questionable content is not new, the recent wave of books containing offensive language or graphic sexual content that have found their way to shelves in public libraries and schools as well as into the hands of children has increased the number of book challenges exponentially. Mothers, fathers, and other concerned citizens have been pushing back on certain books being readily available to youth, with some being met with lawfare.
In order to understand why these parents and citizens are being sued, we must understand what they’re upset over and why library unions are being armed with tools to combat the book challenges.
These controversial books have been pulled from shelves across the country for their explicit sexual content in both taxpayer-funded public school libraries and local public libraries. Some of the banned books have detailed instructions on how to masturbate, give oral sex, have gay sex, and use sex toys, including cartoons of minors performing sex acts on one another.
The American Library Association (ALA) states on its website, “According to the Challenges by Initiator, Institution, Type, and Year, parents challenge materials more often than any other group” referencing data from 1990-1999 and again from 2000-2009. According to this data, the main reasons are sexually explicit content, content that’s not suitable for an age group, and offensive language. As for institutions, schools, school libraries, and public libraries are the top challengers.
Library 2.0’s recent “Banned Books and Censorship” Conference, organized by The Learning Revolution Project and sponsored by The SJSU School of Information proved to be a plethora of tips and tricks on how library personnel could combat parents and concerned citizens who raise questions about the ease of access children have to these graphic books.
In one session, presenter Valerie Byrd Fort discusses the use of “dummy covers” on some of these books saying, “It makes it too easy for parents or community members to find those kinds of books. Don't make it necessarily easy for those groups to find."
The opening keynote of the conference included University of Kentucky Dr. Shannon M. Oltmann stating, "Pornography does not equate to something that makes you uncomfortable...I don't want people to get caught up in the definition of pornography. Sometimes those things are really valuable to students or other patrons."
The ALA has shown support to libraries across the country and offered tools for not only Library 2.0, and Unite Against Book Bans (their national initiative), but dozens of other library groups, unions, and conferences for many years.
The ALA’s definition of pornography is disjointed at best. Per the United for Libraries “Tools for Trustees” 2022 report, pornography is a “colloquial term,” and since under U.S. law there is no legal definition, “courts and legislatures identify illegal sexually themed content as ‘obscenity,’ which is defined by statute in federal and state law.”
“Numerous states have laws that make it a crime to distribute, display, or provide obscene, pornographic, or sexually explicit content to minors. Some of these laws specifically exempt Teachers and library staff from prosecution if the material(s) were provided to or obtained by the minor(s) in the course of the library staff performing their duties, or as part of an approved school curriculum,” the report reads.
So what is considered to be obscene?
United for Libraries and the ALA reference the Miller test, which you will hear referenced in almost every single case of challenged books as a defense for allowing graphic imagery and detailed instructions on body parts and sexual acts in the pages of these books readily available to be read and checked out by minors. The Miller test (a three-pronged test) is based on the 1973 Miller vs. California case and is still considered the court standard used to define obscenity.
“1. Whether the average person, applying contemporary adult community standards, finds that the matter, taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interests (i.e., an erotic, lascivious, abnormal, unhealthy, degrading, shameful, or morbid interest in nudity, sex or excretion); 2. Whether the average person, applying contemporary adult community standards, finds that the matter depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way (i.e., ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated, masturbation, excretory functions, lewd exhibition of the genitals, or sadomasochistic sexual abuse); and 3. Whether a reasonable person finds that the matter, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. Any material that satisfies all three conditions of this three-pronged test may be found obscene. However, it should be noted that only a court can truly label material ‘obscene’ for purposes of the First Amendment. Generally, if an item is available for purchase in the general marketplace, it is unlikely to meet the criteria of the Miller Test.”
“Although this is a commendable motivation, Free Access to Libraries for Minors, an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (ALA's basic policy concerning access to information) states that, ‘Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources.’ Censorship by librarians of constitutionally protected speech, whether for protection or for any other reason, violates the First Amendment,” the ALA stated on their website.
The 1987 Pope vs Illinois case proved that the third prong of the Miller test warranted a higher standard of review, with both the Miller and 1977 Smith vs United States cases, both determining that the first and second prong of the Miller test are factual issues for the jury to decide on. The Pope vs Illinois case came down to the jury’s interpretation of the contemporary “community standard rule” portion of the third prong of the Miller test.
The vagueness of the Miller test and overall definition of obscenity could use some revision, or at the very least, revisiting. As it stands, the definition varies depending on which community you ask, keeping the laws on what’s considered obscene from reaching any national standard.
Mind you, all three of these cases deal with consenting adults accessing pornography, not minors.
Beyond just tips and tricks, the ALA is now armed with funding to fight those challenging books in court to the tune of $1 million. Wrapping private citizens up in months- if not years- of legal fees is designed to exhaust and bankrupt anyone who challenges these books.
In their announcement, the ALA states this $1M grant will double the staff for their Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), with an emphasis on the new staff members to “expand OIF’s efforts to mobilize and provide direction to grassroots organizations to ensure a coordinated and effective response to pro-censorship groups.”
“The contribution will also expand the Lawyers for Libraries and Law for Librarians programs, which include trainings to give both legal professionals and library professionals the expertise necessary for deflecting censorship challenges and provide a network of lawyers who are available to work with libraries and library workers facing intellectual freedom challenges,” the ALA’s statement reads.
With Illinois becoming the first state to pass a law against challenging books in public libraries, the ALA has gleefully announced its support for repeating the process in the remaining states.
A recent statement from Democratic nominee for Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias shows her contempt for anyone right of center who questions the accessibility of certain graphic and detailed sexual images in public libraries that are aimed at school-aged children as “far-right” or “right-wing extremists,” and even names the Proud Boys specifically, claiming they have “harassed librarians across the country.”
“This scourge of censorship is having a dangerous and chilling effect on our democracy and a polarizing impact on our communities as political agendas attempt to divide them. These efforts are not about books; they are about ideas that certain individuals disagree with and believe no one should think.”
Giannoulias argues that questionable books containing graphic descriptions of sexual acts are not “required reading for anyone.” While these books are not required reading, they are openly available and children have access to them, which seems to be the issue for most challengers of the specific books. The list of the Top 13 Most Challenged Books of 2022 can be seen here.
The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom posts the Top 10 most banned books using data from the previous year during their annual National Library Week held in April. The OIF’s current Director, Deborah Caldwell-Stone also recently made headlines after I reported on the Library 2.0’s Banned Books and Censorship Conference where she blatantly discussed how to combat Brave Books’ “See You At The Library” events nationwide.
Kirk Cameron, who has published several children’s books via Brave Books has now vowed to sue the American Library Association for “religious discrimination” after the comments made above during the Library 2.0’s Banned Books and Censorship Conference were brought to light.
ALA’s $1M grant comes from Solidarity Giving, which was enacted in 2016. “Solidarity Giving is part of the Wildcard Giving and complements the work of our two sister organizations,” their website proclaims. Those two organizations include Acton Family Giving and Sunlight Giving.
Solidarity Giving’s website states: “We stand in solidarity with those who are committed to a just, equitable future, who preserve and defend unalienable rights and freedoms, who stand up to hate and who are building a democracy that works for all, not the few.”
Core partners listed on the Solidarity Giving website include an abundance of social justice organizations including the Southern Poverty Law Center, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the ACLU Foundation, and the Anti-Defamation League, just to name a few.
Past areas of focus include the following, with the website claiming to “distribute $10M annually in flexible funding to organizations that advance social justice while centering Black, Indigenous, people of color, immigrants, women and families, and people experiencing poverty”:
The ALA has been well aware of the issues surrounding the accessibility of porn in public libraries via the internet or books for decades and has responded by suing those who attempt to limit the availability of pornographic material in these taxpayer-funded institutions meant for learning.
Jeffrey M. Barker, a reporter with The Seattle Post-Intelligencer covered the Kent County case as far back as 2002. Barker describes the Kent case as having involved a patron viewing images of child pornography via the library’s computer, where not only was there a witness but librarians were notified and police and detectives were able to retrieve evidence from not one but two computers.
What’s unbelievable about this case was the Kent Police Department was sued by The King County Library System in Washington State under the guise that library patrons who used these two computers had their rights violated by the seizure.
While The King County Library System is concerned about the privacy of patrons accessing computers in their facility, where were the concerns for the children being sexually exploited online using taxpayer-funded computers?
Proceeding the Kent case was a two-month-long operation that resulted in the arrest of convicted child molester and registered sex offender Jack Hornbeck, who viewed and distributed child pornography via email using the Los Angeles Central Library. According to the Los Angeles Times, Hornbeck was sending upwards of 300 images of child porn a day and setting up meetings for adults to have sex with minors all on the LA Central Library computer system.
Even further back still, a 2000 report written by Lake Oswego, Oregon public librarian David Burt, reveals the frustration with the ALA’s unwillingness to admit there was an issue with child pornography in public libraries. Burt’s report provides evidence from more than two decades ago that the ALA was aware both adults and children had access to pornography in public libraries.
According to the report, “The response of both the American Library Association and the ‘free speech community,’ organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and People for the American Way, has been to discount such reports.” Ann Symons, president of the ALA from 1990-1999 said, ‘The whole issue of protecting children has been blown way out of proportion by the media and those who seek to promote their own agendas.’
Judith Krug, director of the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, even went so far as to say that “their number is so small that it is almost laughable,’” and “only one child out of a trillion billion’ might use library computers to seek out pornography.” Krug told the Chicago Tribune in 1992 that the book “Sex” by Madonna was “sleazy trash, but it should be in every medium-sized library in the United States,” so the chances of her approving of the “sleazy trash” children are inundated with in libraries across the country in 2023 are pretty good.
In a 1997 HotSeat interview with John McChesney, then-ALA president Ann Symons was asked what a librarian’s role would be if a 13-year-old child seeking pornographic books or magazines approached them, she took no issue with helping this hypothetical child obtain the material. The full archived transcript of this interview can be read here.
“McChesney: I wonder if, if I were 13 and I went into a public library... and I wanted to get a variety of pornographic material, whatever they had there. Would the library in any way stand in my way? I'm talking about hard copy here, physical stuff made of atoms, magazines and so on. Would there be any attempt to keep me away from it, to interfere with me?
Symons: I would say from my point of view there shouldn't be, and if the library didn't own this material and you as a 13-year-old asked for an interlibrary loan, that should be granted to you just as it would be to an adult patron.”
When asked about sexually explicit material readily available at a public library, with particular attention being put on the use of the internet on computers within the library, Symons stresses it’s not the librarian’s role to judge what minors are choosing to view online, and that “kids have a First Amendment right too”.
“McChesney: I have no doubt about that, but I'm wondering about the - if you think of the Internet as sort of a firehose of information that's pouring into a library, unlimited amounts of pornography, and there's plenty of it out there, I've shopped around on the Internet and looked at a lot of it, and it's wholesale out there. It happens to be the biggest business out there right now, the biggest money-making business on the Internet. And I would guess that if I went and looked in the periodicals section of a public library, the Berkeley Public Library or San Francisco Public Library, I would not find there what I would find on the Internet. So what I'm driving at here is, isn't there a difference here between ...
Symons: I think there is a difference, but I think the difference is not in what you're finding, I think that selecting a book or magazine is not the same as selecting the Internet for your library. And when you select the Internet for your library, you're selecting an information resource. And I think that what we found out from the CDA is that things that may offend you are still perfectly legal within the First Amendment. As you know, what's illegal is obscenity that's defined in a court of law, and so we have a situation where people are choosing the information that they want to see. Now, if you're defining pornography as an obscenity, that is determined by law, not by a librarian standing over somebody's shoulder.
McChesney: So how would that apply in the library setting, if some person, a child, say a minor or someone who was perusing pornography within the confines of the library, are they violating some law?
Symons: If you're talking about adults and you're talking about material that is sexually explicit, which you consider indecent, the CDA and the Supreme Court has told us that that is not against the law ...
McChesney: But what if you're not an adult?
Symons: I think that then we get into a slightly grayer area, but we do know from previous court cases that kids have First Amendment rights too. Many states have harmful-to-minors laws, but when you look at those laws, we're not talking about what's offensive to a five-year-old. Those laws are defined by what's offensive, or, defined by the law, to a seventeen-and-a-half-year-old. So this gets into a much grayer, stickier area, and so I think that while we will see a case where the ACLU sues a library and takes the library to court in the next year or so, I doubt that we'll find a case where children are involved. I think that the ACLU will probably stick to adult cases.”
The DANGEROUS ACCESS, 2000 EDITION: Uncovering Internet Pornography in America’s Libraries features an intense database of information and reports from the late 90s, during the dawn of public internet consumption. This issue was being ignored and explained away, but now we see just how determined some organizations are at ensuring this type of material is accessible to children both in book form and internet usage, sometimes without any necessary parental approval. With case after case recorded in this report, each proved to be more disturbing than the last.
One section of the report describes how the ALA sent out “electronic mail” [e-mail] messages to public libraries on how to avoid complying with FOIA requests. The ALA states they had “confidentiality concerns” about those using the library computers. Burt notes the irony in hiding information from the public when the ALA claims the freedom of information to be at the center of its value system. One example of an email sent by ALA regarding the FOIA requests they were receiving is as follows:
“On July 13, the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom sent the following broadcast message to thousands of public libraries: The Office for Intellectual Freedom is interested in obtaining photocopies of letters that libraries have received requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act regarding patron and staff complaints, internal memos, e-mail messages, or incident reports about patrons accessing ‘pornographic or sexually explicit material’ on public Internet terminals. OIF also is interested in obtaining photocopies of the envelopes in which these letters were received. Please send them to the address below or fax them to 312-280-4227. Thank you.’”
The original director for the OIF, Judith F. Krug brought many of the DEI-esque trainings to libraries across the nation. Freedom to Read Foundation co-founder and radical executive director for FTRF, and three-year trustee of ACLU Illinois, Krug spent the majority of her adult life fighting for minors to have access to “offensive” and “inappropriate” material both in literature and online in libraries, showing particular interest in content most would consider sexually “obscene”.
The following quotes from Krug show her unhealthy interest in ensuring this type of material is readily available in public and school libraries.
In the image above Krug is holding up Daddy’s Roommate, which was one of the first children’s books ever published that told the story of a father’s homosexual partnership after divorcing the child’s mother. Daddy’s Roommate was the most contested book in 1993 and 1994.
I’ve followed two recent stories of librarians suing parents or concerned citizens for their questioning of specific books being placed in the school libraries in their town. In New Jersey, librarian Roxana M. Russo Caivano sued parents and citizens for defamation in March after they spoke up at a Board of Education meeting regarding inappropriate books being available in Roxbury schools.
The lawsuit can be viewed here.
Watch Caivano’s reaction after a May 24, 2023, Board of Education meeting:
Less than a month later, Roxbury High School presented Caivano with an award for RHS Staff Member of the Month.
In Louisiana, parents and citizens were named in a defamation suit after allegedly voicing their concerns on social media regarding a Live Oak Middle School librarian who they say has pushed this type of material in schools and has received numerous awards for her efforts. This came after a public library meeting on July 19th, 2022 where Louisiana librarian Amanda Jones made the following speech, which she included in her suit:
Gays Against Groomers on Twitter posted the following Tweet in August 2022 concerning the middle school librarian:
“The president of the Louisiana Association of School Libraries thinks it’s censorship to move explicit sex manuals out of the young adults section of the public library, and is using LGBT people as cover. Great video by @SaraHigdon_”
Jones is allegedly upset over citizens who attended the meeting posting their opinions and memes to social media. The lawsuit can be viewed here and should be read in its entirety to see the statements Jones claims are defamation. (Pages 3-7)
The defendants in the lawsuit entered a motion to strike under the ANTI-SLAPP provision, which the judge ordered in October 2022.
Jones filed a motion for a new trial in October 2022 and was denied.
Jones filed again for a new trial in November, this time asking for less than before, and no longer seeking punitive damages. The Louisiana middle school librarian said she would settle for $1 compensation and an apology. The motion was dismissed in December 2022.
Jones is currently in the appeals process with nothing active or pending on the docket.
“By initiating this suit against Thames based upon false claims, Jones is attempting to intimidate and silence his rights to voice concerns as a well-meaning citizen. Thus, Thames finds himself unjustly thrust into a legal farce, merely for exercising his constitutional right to speak out against those who abuse their government position and power,” the GofundMe reads.
If you would like to support Mr. Thames in his legal fees, you can do so here.
This makes the following quote from Amanda Jones seem a bit hypocritical. “...if you are given a platform and you are able, it is your responsibility to speak out.”
That’s exactly what those opposed to this material being available to children have done and they were sued in response. Now, the ALA is providing financial support to libraries for future incidents of community pushback.
Note the tweet was shared by Emily Drabinski, the American Library Association’s president-elect and self-described “Marxist lesbian”.
In 2023, the fight to keep sexually explicit material from being available at taxpayer-funded institutions including public libraries and public school libraries is at a fever pitch.
A leading group in challenging sexually exploitative books in public schools and libraries is the Moms for Liberty organization. The group was named by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as an “extremist” organization in early June, proving just how effective this group has been at passing legislation and rallying mothers (fathers, grandfathers, and extended family) around the country who are uncomfortable with sexually explicit material being available to their children in K-12 public schools and public libraries. In addition to their new title of “extremist,” the conservative group has been called “anti-government” by the SPLC and other “watchdog” groups who claim the group is against public education.
Moms for Liberty has rejected all claims of being a hate group, or against the LGBTQ+ community. The Moms for Liberty Joyful Warriors National Summit, held from June 29th-July 2nd, 2023 featured presidential candidates President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Vivek Ramaswamy and drew thousands to the four-day event.
The 2023 summit was held in Philadelphia and was met with a crowd of detractors, with bullhorns and signs that read, “Say gay,” or “End LGBTQ Oppression,” to name a few, and used colorful language when summit attendees entered or left the building.
Many summit-goers awoke to signs on the door handles of their hotel room that read, “Please disturb fascism in progress,” or “AGENDA PAC Welcomes You to the Gayborhood,” both of which donned a QR code leading to the SPLC’s Moms For Liberty extremism page. But what the 501(c)(4) nonprofit Moms for Liberty has been able to achieve in a little over two years is remarkable. The organization has been successful in bringing attention to issues in public schools and libraries around gender-neutral bathroom usage and sexually explicit books.
Just this past Wednesday, July 5th, the largest teachers union in the country, The National Education Association published a list of summer reads which included a section for banned books. The list included Gender Queer: A Memoir which contains graphic cartoon images of minors performing sex acts on each other (seen below), and All Boys Aren’t Blue which contains statutory rape and sexual abuse.
Excerpt from All Boys Aren’t Blue:
The following blurred images are from just one of these contested books, and one of the most banned in the U.S., Gender Queer: a Memoir by Maia Kobabe.
In some areas of the country parents and citizens are fighting back against these books being available to minors and making some leeway. Texas HB900 was signed into law on June 12th and requires all book vendors to rate all books being sold to schools in the state by sexual content. Also of note are Florida’s HB 1557, Missouri’s SB 775, and Utah’s HB 374.
With what seems to be a bottomless pit of funding to hire lawyers and file lawsuits against anyone challenging these sexually explicit books, parents and citizens trying to prevent children from having access to this type of material have an uphill battle. If only they had their own set of grants being offered up to defend their rights to challenge inappropriate content.