As both extremes of the political spectrum contort themselves in their efforts to make our libraries a battleground in their culture war, we are in danger of missing the point.
The enemy in this pissing match is not books, but an excessively powerful government that, left unchecked, will continue to usurp our authority as citizens. And we have only ourselves to blame for our government’s size and voracious appetite.
If you whine to government that you don’t want sex books in your school or county library, then a government hungry for more power will hear you and remove sex books so your kids can’t see them.
Then it will remove the books you like because someone else doesn’t like them.
If you whine to government that you don’t want your kids exposed to “Mein Kampf” or “Protocols of the Elders of Zion," then government will hear you and ban them.
Then it will present you with the history or the information that it wants you to see.
Then government will tell you what books you can and cannot read and will, ultimately, be in control of what information is available to you. It doesn’t matter if that government is from the Right or the Left. It doesn’t care. It only cares about control.
The First Amendment to our Constitution was written to prevent exactly this type of bullshit. But we, as a citizenry, have lost touch with the awesome power of the concept that free speech shall not be abridged.
And we discount our own worth as citizens and parents to flex the incredible Constitutional muscles we have been given. Too often, we turn to Big Government to solve our problems.
If you are a parent and you don’t want government, through public schools, replacing your influence in your child’s life, then don’t let it happen.
If there are books that you don’t want your child to read, or ideas out there that you don’t want in your child’s noggin, then be the kind of parent that your child turns to for knowledge.
But don’t for a minute think that your enemy is freedom of human expression. Books aren’t trying to replace you as a parent, big government is.
Don’t try to limit government encroachment into your life by limiting the First Amendment.
Any public library worth its Dewey Decimal System will contain books that will blow some folks’ skirts up and curl their nosehairs. If government is empowered to curtail those books, then it is pleased to do so and thankful for the gift of power.
But what is diminished is you and your neighbor’s right to inform yourselves. And you and your neighbor’s right to say what you damn well please.
If you really want to sacrifice that right because there are books in the library that bother you, then make that sacrifice with eyes wide open.
That is the equation. It is a zero sum game between free speech and government-prescribed homogeneous groupthink.
To censor a teeny bit of free speech because it offends is corollary to being a teeny bit pregnant. The higher response to disturbing speech or books is toleration of it all, and an exercise of personal and parental responsibility in teaching our young.
This is a moment when we all have to stand firm against a strong wind. This is a “line in the sand” kind of moment, when the individual citizen is confronted with a government hell-bent on control.
If we, as citizens, defer to government to decide what we can and cannot read, what we can and cannot know, then we have thrown in the intellectual and political towel.
If we rely on government to teach our kids, we have removed a cornerstone of citizenship.
And the choice is ours alone, not government’s.