2books, and the other three therefore had no basis to judge the books’ literary andeducational value. Instead, the board seems to have uncritically accepted theSuperintendent’s view that they are not “appropriate,” because of certain content andbecause the books send “the wrong message.”This kind of viewpoint and content-based discrimination violates the most basic principleof the First Amendment: “government has no power to restrict expression because of itsmessage, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.”
American Civil LibertiesUnion
(2002). The rule makes no exception for public schools: “[l]ocal school boardsmay not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideascontained in those books …”
Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico
(1982). Indeed, school officials have a special responsibility touphold these constitutional norms. “That they are educating the young for citizenship isreason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we arenot to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principlesof our government as mere platitudes...”
West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette
(1943).It is irrelevant that the board’s decision was based on “standards” modeled on the ratingsystems created for movies, music, TV, and video games. Those ratings are themselvescontent-based, and thus constitutionally suspect, because they classify material based oncontent, particularly sex and violence. Neither ratings nor the newly adopted standardsaddress the literary and educational merits of a work, which is the key issue. Moreover,ratings for movies and TV were developed by
entities as informational tools forconsumers. It is a wholly different matter when government officials rate and excludematerial because of certain content. See
Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association
(2011) (holding California’s ratings and restrictions on violent video gamesunconstitutional).If students were precluded from reading literature considered inappropriate because of sexual or violent content, they would be deprived of exposure to vast amounts of important material, including Shakespeare, major religious texts including the Bible, theworks of Tolstoy, Flaubert, Joyce, Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, Nabokov, Morrison, andcountless others. As these examples suggest, any attempt "to eliminate everything that isobjectionable...will leave public schools in shreds. Nothing but educational confusion anda discrediting of the public school system can result...."
McCollum v. Board of Educ.
(1948) (Jackson, J. concurring).We urge you to provide students with an education that exposes them to challengingmaterials and diverse ideas and beliefs, that prepares them to make their own judgments,and that teaches them to respect the opinions of others. This is at the core of our system:“The Constitution exists precisely so that opinions and judgments, including esthetic andmoral judgments about art and literature, can be formed, tested, and expressed. What theConstitution says is that these judgments are for the individual to make, not for theGovernment to decree, even with the mandate or approval of a majority.”
US v. Playboy Entertainment Group