Would You Ban Books if It Meant Secular Schools?

Okay, so here’s a question for you: Would you agree that schools should ban some pro-LGBTQ children’s books IF it meant that tax money would not fund private religious schools? Me, I don’t think so, but I DO know that this has been the normal way Americans have handled controversial issues in their public schools.

little and lion

Smut? Filth? Required reading?

Here’s the latest: Some conservative Florida parents are at it again. They’ve demanded that Little & Lion be pulled from their local high-school English classes. I don’t know the book, but at a public meeting parents denounced the book as “smut” and “filth.” Parents objected to passages like the following:

I ask him if he has a condom and he nods, grabs one from his jeans on the floor. But he stops and asks if I’m sure before he puts it on. I’m no surer of what I’m doing now than when I was with Iris, but like when I was with her, this feels right.

The book joins the long tradition of controversial books for children and teens. It’s no surprise to SAGLRROILYBYGTH that books with pro-LGBTQ themes and characters have been especially controversial, as have any books that discuss teen sexuality. Just a couple of weeks ago, you probably remember, Missouri lawmakers proposed to imprison librarians responsible for questionable children’s books.

As I explored in The Other School Reformers, the idea that public schools and libraries should be “safe” spaces for conservative religious children has a long history. In 1922, for example, Kentucky’s lawmakers did Missouri one better. They considered a bill that would have purged public libraries of any book that could,

directly or indirectly attack or assail or seek to undermine or weaken or destroy the religious beliefs and convictions of the children of Kentucky.

What would that even mean? What would a library look like if it contained no books that might “indirectly . . . weaken” religious faith? Like Missouri’s bill, it seems absurd, yet these sorts of book-bannings have proven extremely politically potent. It hasn’t always been pretty, but by and large parents have been able to ban books they don’t like.

I don’t approve of these book bannings. In fact, my early introduction to school culture-wars came back when I was a mild-mannered English teacher and a conservative parent wanted to ban one of our books.

But here’s the tough question I have to ask myself: Is it a fair compromise to ban some books from public schools and libraries if we can agree that we should also never use tax money to fund private religious schools? After all, the logic is similar.

Namely, as we detailed recently, Americans have always recoiled from using tax money to fund “sectarian” schools. There has been a lot of religion in America’s public schools, for sure, but historically schools have not been allowed to teach any doctrine considered religiously divisive. In the past, only generic Christianity—usually with a Protestant sheen—was allowed in public schools. As society in general became more secular in the twentieth century, public schools nixed more and more religious practices.

In my opinion, SCOTUS should respect this precedent when it rules on Espinoza v. Montana. If they do, though, should we also agree to keep other divisive, “sectarian” religious ideas out of public schools? Should we agree with conservative parents and lawmakers that some books should be banned from public schools?