Photo: Penguin Group
A lawsuit filed in Utah is claiming that the removal of a children’s book featuring lesbian parents from library shelves is a violation of the first amendment.Patricia Polacco’s picture book “In Our Mothers’ House,” described as a “gem” by the School Library Journal, is the story of a family of adopted children with two mothers.
According to the lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of local parent Tina Weber, it was stocked in the libraries of four schools in Davis School District, Utah, until some parents complained earlier this year that it “normalizes a lifestyle we don’t agree with,” and that it “makes a homosexual lifestyle seem fun and exciting – lots of parties, costumes and events with children who grow up to have successful, high-paying careers.” It “promotes homosexuality and makes the reader feel that life inside a homosexual home is great, wonderful and with no problems,” said one parent, while another felt it was “not a natural process to have a complete family without a male and female.”
The district, believing that the book violates Utah’s sex education laws by advocating homosexuality, then told the libraries to remove it from shelves and place it behind the counter, with children only allowed to borrow it with their parents’ written permission.
Now the ACLU and Weber have sued the district, arguing that public schools cannot remove books from libraries because some people disagree with their viewpoint. “The district cannot constitutionally allow the religious, political or cultural preferences of some parents to dictate what other people’s children should and should not be allowed to read, or place burdens on their ability to access fully protected ideas,” says the lawsuit. “Before they can even open the covers of ‘In Our Mothers’ House,’ students must first get a written note from their parents, find the librarian, wait their turn to speak with the librarian, ask to check out the book, and wait while the librarian verifies that she has parental permission to do so. The first amendment does not permit the government to place these unequal burdens on accessing particular books based on the books’ viewpoint.”
The restriction of access, it argues, also “places an unconstitutional viewpoint-based stigma” on students who wish to read the book, sending the message that “students who read ‘In Our Mothers’ House’ are reading a ‘bad’ book and that the ideas contained in the book are unacceptable and should not be discussed.”
The suit calls for the district to be required to return copies of the picture book to the schools’ library shelves, and for it to be prohibited from removing or restricting access to books in the future over concerns they contain homosexual themes or advocate homosexuality. It is seeking nominal damages of $1 “for the violation [of Weber’s] constitutional rights,” and costs and legal fees.
“I was shocked when I heard that a handful of parents had made a decision about whether everyone else’s kids could have access to this book,” said Weber. “Our job as parents is to make sure we teach our children about our values. We can do that without imposing our personal views on the rest of the school community.”
“The fact of the matter is that children with same-sex parents attend schools across the country – including in Davis County. Removing books from the shelves won’t change that,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU lesbian gay bisexual and transgender project. “Children come from all types of families. Regardless of the race, sex or marital status of a child’s parents, they are part of the school community, and their families should not be hidden away as something shameful.”
In a piece for the ACLU, Polacco explained how she was moved to write the book after seeing a young girl told not to read an essay about her family – she had two mothers – because it wasn’t “a real family.” “I was so appalled and insulted on that child’s behalf that I immediately, after school that day, went back to my hotel room and wrote ‘In Our Mothers’ House,'” said Polacco. “As far as this book being banned in Utah goes, I do believe in any parents’ right to decide what their own child will read, see or experience. Where it becomes a matter of infringing on the first amendment rights of others is when a parent takes steps to make sure that no one else’s child will read a book that they object to.”
A spokesman for the district told Reuters that it had not yet been served with the lawsuit. “We still feel very comfortable with the process we followed, which is laid out in district policy,” said the spokesman. “We still believe that at no time did we take parents out of the driver’s seat. Parents still have the opportunity, if they want their child to read the book, to get it. It’s not on the shelves, but it’s accessible.”
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