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Liberty Valance and Charter Schools

#Speakloudly For the Freedom to Read

For the past few years, I've been begging people to try to ban one of my books.  It's freaking awesome publicity!  It gets everybody talking about your book and allows people to think that they're standing up for free speech just by buying your book!  Sadly, nobody's challenged any of my books yet.  

But today the internets are ablaze with commentary about how this dude wants Laurie Halse Anderson's YA novel Speak removed from his local schools.  

I have a few thoughts:  One is that anybody who thinks a book about a girl recovering from rape is pornographic really needs to watch more porn so he can know what the hell he's talking about.

But also, this:  everybody's speaking up for Speak today, which is fine, but Speak doesn't really need defending.  It's still in print 11 years after publication, which makes it a bigger success than at least 90% of all books ever published, and people will continue to buy and read it. I imagine sales will probably spike in Missouri as a result of this guy's column. We shouldn't be arguing whether this particular book is worthy of inclusion in a public school curriculum because taking that tack is ceding the argument to the book banners.

What needs to be fought for is the freedom to read.  The author of the piece attacking Speak was a speaker at a Reclaiming Missouri For Christ seminar.  Which means, as near as I can tell, he's a Christian Dominionist. These are people who want the United States to be a Christian theocracy.  I'm not using hyperbole here.  Here's a quote from the Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ website (I know it's not the same state, but they have an identical mission statement to the Missouri folks, so I think it's safe to assume they're related.) : We know and preach that the family must be built on the Rock of  Jesus Christ.  We know and preach that the Church must be built on the Rock of Jesus Christ.  So too, government was designed by God to be subject to and built on the Rock of Jesus Christ.

These people do not believe in secular democracy, and while they wrap themselves in the flag, they are anti-American in the deepest sense:  they oppose our system of government and seek to replace it with a theocracy.

So when these would-be theocrats come knocking at the library or schoolhouse door, what we really need to do is not say, "Oh, but this book is really good and not at all pornographic" but, rather, "The United States of America is a secular democracy whose institutions cannot legally be bound by your religious laws. Your children are free not to read this book, and mine must be free to read it."

Sadly, the power these people have comes not from a successful book banning, but from the attendant publicity and hassle that their demands place on public officials.  Will some teachers and librarians be reluctant to purchase books that depict a non-idealized vision of adolescent life for fear that the theocrats will stir up trouble?  Will publishers, afraid of low sales, be reluctant to publish such books?  Will editors ask for edits on material that anti-American theocrats might find objectionable?  

I'm heartened to see the book loon's fellow Christians standing up against him.  But we should also reframe the argument and oppose the removal of this and any other book from our library or curriculum on strictly patriotic grounds.